Our Privacy Has Just Been Sold

I do not normally post articles here that have a political angle however today news out of the US Senate resulted in this one – which should worry each and everyone of us.

This morning, Republican senators voted to remove Obama administration restrictions designed to keep internet service providers (ISPs) from selling our private data. The vote passed along party lines, 50-48. This means that very soon – your private data will more then likely be sold to the highest bidder – without your control or your knowledge.

The Current Situation with Your Internet Data

The policy, originally proposed by then acting FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler outlined clear guidelines for how ISPs were to handle your data. In short, they could not use it without your permission and they certainly were not able to share sensitive information like browsing history and location data with advertisers.

The Effect on Your Privacy Effected by this New Action

As of today, that rule is a step closer to being a memory. Congress essentially just opened the floodgates to some of the sleaziest corporations on the planet using your data however they see fit, and they did it while assuring each of us that it was in our best interest.

Worse, the ruling could put the FCC in danger of not being able to create similar ones in the future. According to the Congressional Review Act:

Once a rule is thus repealed, the CRA also prohibits the reissuing of the rule in substantially the same form or the issuing of a new rule that is substantially the same, “unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the joint resolution disapproving the original rule.

If you’re wondering how we got here, follow the money: the 22 Republican senators behind the push to strike down the original ruling have pocketed more than $1.7 million from telecom companies since the 2012 election.

On its own, the lack of privacy each of us face on the internet is already a scary proposition. Removing the few guidelines that protect us from shady backroom deals is outright terrifying.

This is just the opening shot in an on-going war. Already through the Senate, up next is the House of Representatives, where it’s expected to get the needed number of votes thanks to a Republican-controlled House voting along party lines, and finally Trump’s desk. He’s expected to sign the bill.

It’s no secret what Trump and his Republican-controlled Congress plan to do to the internet: shift control to corporate interests. Newly-installed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai has made it clear he intends to dismantle net neutrality rules. Last month, he even went as far as blocking language in the privacy rules that required ISPs to adopt reasonable security measures to protect our data, and notify each of us when a breach occurs.

 

Overturning net neutrality guidelines, when coupled with a complete lack of privacy, seems to put all of us on a one-way collision course with the antiquated cable TV model. That means tiered pricing, prioritized service, and always-on monitoring of your internet activity. And thanks to this sacrifice at the alter of capitalism, ISPs are set to profit handsomely while doing away with any notion of an open internet.

For the rest of us, we’re at the mercy of a group of rich suits, a group we’re now trusting to ethically handle data containing our most sensitive information.

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Chrome 55 Arrives and Looks to Boost Browsing Speed

It appears that Google Chrome Version 55 has just been released. This release is significant in that it has been engineered to drastically reduce RAM usage by as much as 50 percent thanks to an updated JavaScript V8 engine that reduces the memory zone and heap size. Another notable change is that Chrome is slowly pushing Flash out the back door in favor of HTML5.  In the end this should be a faster browser along with better security.

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You can wait for the auto update or you go to the Google Menu, click on “Help”, then “About Google Chrome”. From that point you can determine your current version and/or the option to go for the upgrade, if available. In my case, the upgrade was there.

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DDoS Attack Exposes Growing Concerns

Early this morning, a large distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) directed at the Internet performance management company Dyn caused Web site outages for a number of its customers, including Twitter, Reddit, Spotify and SoundCloud.

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Services were restored to normal by 9:20 a.m. Eastern Time.

Question – What is a DDoS?

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. They target a wide variety of important resources, from banks to news websites, and present a major challenge to making sure people can publish and access important information.

Why Are Reports Like This a Concern?

While today’s DDoS attack was resolved relatively quickly, a number of news sites described it as having shut down “half the Internet” for users on the East Coast. In addition to customers, such as Twitter and Reddit, Dyn’s client list includes large sites such as About.com, CNBC, Etsy, RedHat and Zillow.

The scale and scope of DDoS attacks have been growing dramatically over the past year or so. Last month, for example, the KrebsOnSecurity Web site was temporarily brought down by a recording-breaking DDoS attack generating traffic levels of up to 620 Gbps. Shortly afterward, the France-based hosting company OVH sustained a DDoS attack that was nearly twice as massive as the one on Krebs’ site.

A Growing Concern

Security experts are blaming the rise of increasingly massive DDoS attacks on the rapidly expanding number of network-connected devices on the Internet of Things (IoT). Earlier this month, researchers identified a 12-year-old vulnerability in the OpenSSH security utilities suite, noted that weak protections on IoT devices has helped to create the “Internet of Unpatchable Things.”

The size of these DDoS attacks has increased so much lately thanks largely to the broad availability of tools for compromising and leveraging the collective firepower of so-called Internet of Things devices which often include poorly secured Internet-based security cameras, digital video recorders (DVRs) and Internet routers.

What all these connected devices have in common is the existence of security vulnerabilities caused by a flawed software design or gross negligence on the part of their manufacturers that all often use the same factory passwords for all their devices.

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Question – What is The Internet of Things? 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

A thing, in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low — or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.

IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), microservices and the internet. The convergence has helped tear down the silo walls between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT), allowing unstructured machine-generated data to be analyzed for insights that will drive improvements.

The security of the internet is a complex and often overwhelming challenge. What at one time was simply computers connected together via the internet is now smartphones, mobile devices and technologies of every type from your refrigerator, HVAC system and medical devices such as heart pacers.

 

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New YouTube Chrome Extension Is Available

One of the best features of YouTube’s mobile apps is the ability to minimize a video to a thumbnail and continue watching it while you continue browsing YouTube.

The just released YouTube Picture in Picture Chrome extension brings this same functionality to the desktop and it works like a charm.

Once you’ve installed the extension, you can right-click any video on YouTube’s home page, channels or search results and begin watching it instantly in a small window by right-clicking it and choosing ‘Play Picture-in-Picture’.

You can also increase the size of the active video, watch it on its own page or close it using the controls that show up when you hover over it. And of course, you can jump from one page to another while browsing while interrupting your chosen clip.

If you are a Chrome user and visit YouTube occasionally this extension is a must have.

YouTube Picture in Picture (Beta) [Chrome Web Store]

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Blocking Ads with AdBlock

Do you get tired of seeing advertisements when browsing the internet? I know I do and now with user-based advertisements seemingly following us I really am growing tired of these advertisements, even if they seemingly are showing me points of interest to me. So how can we stop these ads if we do not want them? The best way today to do this is through browser extensions.

Browser extensions are small applications that run inside your browser for very specific purposes. A wide range of available extensions is one of the reasons Google’s Chrome is so popular. So with this in mind check out “AdBlock” for Chrome if you want to end ads while browsing the internet.

What is AdBlock?

AdBlock for Chrome is the go-to extension if you want to remove ads, pop-ups, and other annoyances that get in the way of viewing a page. It’s easy to add to your browser and gets to work right away.

Pros

It works: In AdBlock, a handy number under the icon in the browser toolbar shows you how many items it’s blocking, so you know it’s always working.

Customizable: Although you can just add the extension and go, there are plenty of ways to customize which sites it works on, and a quick menu lets you quickly turn the application off for a page you’re on or even all subpages within a specific domain.

Cons

Pay what you want: The software is free to use, but the publisher does ask you to ante up what you think AdBlock is worth. It’s not a huge drawback, but you will be asked to pay. The default amount is set to $35.

Bottom Line

AdBlock for Chrome does a stellar job of keeping only the content you want on a page. That means no ads, pop-ups, nor other distractions. If you use Chrome, this is a must-have.

You can learn more and download AdBlock here.

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Yahoo! To Stream an NFL Game This Season

Now I understand that my previous article described a crumbling and shrinking Yahoo!. Now we have this latest bit of news that Yahoo will be actually broadcasting (streaming) an NFL game this season, on the internet, with no accompanying television broadcast.

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Yahoo was chosen in a bidding process by the NFL, which was seeking to find a partner to air an October 25, 2015 game in London between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. The level of competition may not be the best the NFL has to offer– the Bills have the longest streak of seasons without a playoff appearance in the NFL, just ahead of the Oakland Raiders, and the Jaguars are tied for fifth on that list — but the move to allow free online access across devices is a big deviation from the NFL’s previous path.

Streaming services have managed to find popularity outside the mainstream cable bundle, but many consumers avoid fully cutting the cord due to live sports specifically. This included your favorite tech blogger. While many of the sports leagues offer streaming packages in some form or another, they black out local teams’ games from those offerings, forcing fans to purchase cable to watch area teams.

Some cracks have begun showing for streaming sports, though. DishTV recently announced a streaming bundle of programs that includes ESPN, giving streaming-only TV watchers their first access to the sports network . That offering, called Sling TV, also has some Turner channels that show live sports and a smattering of other live sports content.

Yahoo has obviously made video a focus while giving up on other traditional internet services like Maps which have been overtaken by the rise of Google and Facebook. Yahoo has pumped up its Yahoo Screen streaming service with original content from the celebrities, including Katie Couric, and picked up canceled NBC series “Community” to pair with its original offerings.

Google’s YouTube, which has reportedly pursued NFL broadcast rights in the past, was likely beaten out by Yahoo. The price for the rights to the Bills-Jaguars game was not released.

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Yahoo! Kills Maps and More

Yahoo is shutting down its Maps site and other tools in the next few weeks. It’s a sign that Yahoo is looking for more dead weight to trim now that the company’s profits are continuing to shrink.

Yahoo Maps was once highly popular but has long been overtaken by Google Maps. Apple is putting more resources behind its own map service.

Yahoo announced a slew of other changes. Among them: It will no longer support Yahoo Mail on some older iPhone and iPap operating systems; it’s also dropping support for Yahoo Contacts on some older versions of Apple’s Mac OS X.

It is also shutting down some of its regional, genre-specific media properties in the coming weeks, and plans to redistribute it across the Yahoo network. The affected properties include closing Yahoo Music in France and Canada as well as Yahoo Movies in Spain; Yahoo TV in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Canada; and Yahoo Autos in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Yahoo Entertainment in Singapore will also close.

Most of the shutdowns occur in June.

Yahoo is a internet company that I never quite understood as there seems to be no actual strategy or focus and it appears that their may be a slow march to diminishing rewards for this long standing internet brand.

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More Free Shipping from Amazon Arriving

This past weekend I suggested in a post that the days of brick and mortar stores were numbered. This is in great part due to the success of online shopping, especially Amazon.com. Now we have this.

In addition to recently announcing same day delivery in major cities, including Philadelphia now we have free shipping coming for all shoppers, for items under $10.

Amazon is introducing free shipping on a range of small items in its store that cost less than $10 and weigh under eight ounces, for all its customers in the US, reports Bloomberg.

You don’t need to be signed up to Amazon Prime to get free shipping, or worry about a minimum order amount. The Fulfillment by Amazon Small and Light program applies to products like makeup, phone accessories and earplugs.

Orders will be shipped from Amazon’s hub in Florence, Kentucky and arrive at customers’ doorsteps in four to eight business days.

With its lower fulfillment cost, the program could attract sellers away from eBay and encourage more shoppers to try Amazon’s service over its rivals for smaller items.

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Brick & Mortar Stores Under Fire

If you were worried about the future of brick and mortar stores you have cause. There is very good reason to fear that the days of simply walking into a store to shop and browse are almost over. Amazon.com is striking another dagger into the life of physical retail stores.

 

Another Dagger at Physical Stores – Conquering Impulse & Speed 

Amazon wants to make your impulse buys even more impulsive. The e-commerce powerhouse is also now offering free same-day delivery service in some cities (including Philadelphia) to its Prime loyalty club members.

Same-Day Delivery

Amazon reported late this week more than 1 million items including books, electronics and vacation gear will be eligible for same-day delivery in 14 metro areas including New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Atlanta. Orders over $35 are eligible for the service. They need to be placed by noon and will be delivered by 9 p.m.

Orders under $35 can still have one day delivery, it just costs $5.99.

Previously the service cost $5.99 for Prime members and $9.98 for non-Prime members for the first item, plus 99 cents for each additional item.

About 20 million items on the site are eligible for free two-day delivery for Prime members. Prime loyalty club membership costs $99 a year.

Amazon in general has been expanding its Prime program’s offerings in an effort to grow its membership with services such as grocery delivery, one-hour delivery in some cities, beefed up video streaming and the creation of a Bluetooth speaker called the Echo that syncs with Prime music.

The delivery sector is heating up with new startups challenging traditional delivery methods. Ride-hailing service Uber is testing local delivery service, and delivery service Postmates has begun working with restaurants like McDonald’s and Starbucks, in addition to offering one-hour delivery services for most restaurants and stores in major metro areas.

Not to be outdone, last week Seattle-based Amazon said it would begin offering one-hour delivery from local stores in New York City’s Manhattan borough.

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Checking Your ISP’s Performance

While the Title II classification of ISPs as common carriers was a victory for all, there is growing concern that ISPs could go on with business as usual with clever tricks designed to skirt the rules of the classification.

While knowingly stepping outside the boundaries of the Title II classification carries the possibility of hefty fines and additional regulation by the FCC – for the most part – the average consumer would never realize throttling or degradation was even taking place.

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The ‘Internet Health Test‘ by Battle for the Net is an attempt to install a sense of checks and balances for these ISPs by providing a test for Internet users to ensure their speeds aren’t being throttled or otherwise degraded.

To find out if you are experiencing any ISP-related performance degradation, simply click the link above (or below) to hop on over to the Internet Health Test site and press the “Start the test” button. The test runs in a pop-up window and takes just a couple minutes. You’ll be alerted to any performance degradation upon completion.

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The test takes about 90 seconds to run and you can check it out here.

You can check out my results here.

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