AOL Retires Messenger

Gone are the days when the internet was new and it was totally okay and not at all creepy to make friends online. Back then the internet took ages to load, it required loud screeching sounds to alert you that you were indeed connected, and required many minutes’ patience to see just one image. During this era, young people connected via message services like AOL Instant Messenger.

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We adopted fun, ironic screen names to indicate to other fellow youths that, hey, we are up with the current fun tech stuff and are totally down with this weird internet thing. My AIM screen name, if I remember correctly, was “cdmann18”.

It’s with a heavy heart that I must announce this era is coming to an end.

AOL has announced that it will be discontinued on December 15 of this year. Pour one out for AIM.

The truth is, very few people likely use it anymore. At its peak in the early 2000s, tens of millions of people flocked to it as a novel way to chat with friends. For many, AIM was the gateway drug to the crippling addiction that is the social web. But as other message apps stormed the scene, it was unable to keep up.

Today’s youths use other apps like Snapchat to communicate online. And with other services like WhatsApp, Signal, and Facebook Messenger, AIM has surely lost the fight. So it’s not terribly surprising that this vestige of a bygone digital era is finally going away.

Let’s memorialize the instant messenger by recalling all the good times we had on it; striking up conversations that consisted solely of: “hey” “hey” “whats up” “nm u” “nm”; and lest we forget the artistry required for crafting a good away message.

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Hope for the Nintendo Classic Mini

This makes me cautiously optimistic about getting my hands on a Nintendo Classic Mini.

Nintendo today announced the return of the Nintendo Entertainment System Classic, its surprise hit retro console that no one could seem to find.

The unexpected stopgap console that grabbed fan attention before the release of the Nintendo Switch proved to be far more popular than the company’s foundering Wii U. That said, the console’s limited numbers remained a sore point for potential buyers (especially me) right up until the console was discontinued earlier this year.

Nintendo seemed to let it slip in the announcement of the Famicom Mini‘s cancellation that it might bring either or both consoles back, but gave no further details.

In addition, Nintendo will be making more of its SNES Classic console for consumers. Specifically, it’s making more SNES Classics than it did NES Classics last year. According to a spokesperson, “Fans have shown their unbridled enthusiasm for these Classic Edition systems, so Nintendo is working to put many more of them on store shelves.”

While the NES Classic won’t be re-released until next summer, the SNES Classic comes out on September 29. I have my doubts if I will be able to find one – but try I will.

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The Annoying Rise of Scam & Robocalls

Special Report: Have you noticed more & more robocalls or out & out spam phone calls making it to your mobile device? If you have – you are not alone. This has been getting on my nerves for a while now so I looked into just what was going on and why – these annoying calls are becoming more frequent.

An estimated 2.5 billion automated calls are being made each month, according to YouMail, which offers a robocall-blocking app. Three quarters of wireless customers feel like the number of unwanted calls has increased over the past year, and the calls cost Americans an estimated $350 million each year, according to Consumers Union.

Image result for robo calls mobile

There is some good news. The FCC has reported that it wants to crack down on unwanted robocalls and the federal agency looking at ways to help us block them. It’s also been stepping up enforcement of illegal robocalls. Last week, the agency voted to fine a New Mexico-based company $2.88 million for making unlawful robocalls. And last month, the FCC fined a Florida resident $120 million for allegedly making almost 100 million illegal robocalls in a three-month period.

However ridding the world of robocalls entirely is tricky because some legitimate communications are made using automated call technology. That includes weather alerts and messages from schools, public utilities and political organizations. Phone companies don’t want to block legitimate calls that consumers may want to receive.

Here’s what you need to know to understand what’s going on with robocalls.

Annoying Calls Explained

Telemarketing tech that uses automated dialers to make so-called robocalls is pretty simple and inexpensive to set up and run. All you need is a computer connected to a modem and a program that selects and dials numbers from a database. Other features can be added too, such as recording calls or detecting when a person has answered.

Because the cost of making these calls has pretty much come down to zero and it’s possible to make the calls from offshore — where they’re harder to trace and crack down on — it’s become an easy and attractive method for scammers.

Why Are We Getting These Calls?

There are a few reasons.

  • You may have actually given your consent to a company to make these calls. And maybe you didn’t know you’d done so.
  • Your phone number has been reassigned and the previous person who had that number had consented to getting marketing calls and the company calling you hasn’t updated its list. (The FCC is currently considering a proposal to fix this issue. I’ll explain what they’re doing below.)
  • The people calling you are scammers and they don’t care about the law. This is probably the most likely answer to this question.
We May Have Done This To Ourselves!

If you have ever checked a box when signing up for a service, website or at a retailer asking if they can market directly to you, you may have given consent to receive marketing calls. Always double chec

FCC’s Recent Robocall Action Explained

Last week, the commission voted on two items related to ridding the world of unwanted robocalls.

First, it voted to evaluate a system that would let phone companies check if a number calling you is legit. This call authentication system could help improve third-party apps that allow consumers to block unwanted calls and allow phone companies to offer call blocking as a service.

The second thing it voted on was a proposal to consider how to prevent unwanted calls after a number has been reassigned to a different customer. Currently, legitimate companies that make telemarketing calls have no way of knowing if a phone number has been reassigned. This means customers who haven’t given consent for marketing calls are getting them. It also means that legitimate companies making these calls to customers who don’t want the calls are in violation of the law and are subject to stiff penalties.

To help resolve this issue, the FCC is considering whether wireless companies should be required to report when numbers have been reassigned so a database can be created. Companies could access the database so they aren’t calling numbers that have been reassigned to a new customer.

What We Can Do Now?

Ask your phone company to offer robocall-blocking technology — most of them offer some form of protection, although a few will charge you a fee.

If you use a robocall-blocking app or your carrier provides technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others. I have been using the truecaller” app for a few months now which has seemed to help quite a bit in respect to identifying robo & spam calls.  With this app, your phone still rings, however the caller identification reports the callers as “spam caller” which at least helps you avoid answering one of these calls. Check out truecaller here.

Image result for truecaller app

Don’t pick up the phone when someone from an unknown or suspicious number is calling you. This is often how scammers know it’s a legit number to target and they may sell your number to other telemarketers and scammers.

File a complaint with the FCC or the FTC. The FCC can issue warning citations and impose fines against companies violating or suspected of violating the do-not-call rules. But it doesn’t award individual damages. The FTC can file lawsuits against companies or individuals violating its rules.

Consider filing a lawsuit, if you can find out who is making the calls. Companies are “strictly” liable for unwanted robocalls made without explicit written consent. And since damages start at a minimum of $500 per unwanted robocall, the penalties can add up.

Forward spam text messages sent from a phone number to 7726 (or SPAM). This free text exchange with the wireless carrier reports the spam number and you’ll receive a response from the carrier thanking you for reporting the spam.

If you need more information, check out the FCC’s website here.

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The War Against Fake News Continues

The battle against “fake news” continues, at least on social media.

Facebook reported earlier this week that it has targeted 30,000 fake accounts linked to France ahead of the country’s presidential election, as part of a worldwide effort against misinformation.

Facebook went on to state that it’s trying to “reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts.”

Facebook had previously ramped up its efforts against the spread of false news and misinformation on its service in December, a month after the U.S. presidential election. The company said at the time that it will focus on the “worst of the worst” offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations to sort honest news reports from made-up stories.

This action is partially a result of Facebook being accused of allowing the spread of false news in the months leading up to the U.S. election, which may have helped change the results of the election.

Image result for facebook fake news

Last week, Facebook launched a resource (above image) to help users spot false news in 14 countries including the U.S., France and Germany. It’s a notification, available for a few days, that leads users to a list of tips for spotting false news and ways to report it.

Facebook’s other efforts include participating with other companies and tech industry leaders to establish a “news integrity” nonprofit organization to promote news literacy and increase the public’s trust in journalism.

I do expect that this fake news problem, which is now a world wide phenomenon will eventually be dealt with. However, how that will look, or how effective our efforts will be is unknown.

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Social Media Begins Responding to Fake News

Fake news is anything but fake, it is a very real problem. Both Facebook & YouTube which have been outlets for creators of fake news are starting to respond to this threat. In fact one of the biggest ways in which Russia interfered with the presidential election of 2016 was through the publishing of fake news stories which even included entire Facebook pages.

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Facebook’s Fake News Response

Facebook is launching a resource to help you spot false news and misleading information that spreads on its service.

The resource, similar to previous efforts around privacy and security, is basically a notification that pops up for a few days. Clicking on it takes you to tips and other information on how to spot false news and what to do about it.

Tips to spot false news include looking closely at website addresses to see if they are trying to spoof real news sites, and checking websites’ “about” sections for more information. Some sites might look like real news at first glance, but their “about” sections inform the visitor that they are in fact satire.

The new feature is part of a broader plan by Facebook to clamp down false news stories, which gained outsized attention in the months leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

False news, of course, was around long before the election. But supermarket tabloids peddling stories about aliens and celebrity miracles are less insidious than, say, “Pizzagate,” a false internet rumor that led a gunman to fire an assault weapon inside a Washington pizzeria in December.

This new resource should be launching soon. Watch for it.

YouTube’s Fake News Response

Youtube announced this past Thursday that is it is cracking down on fake news channels by no longer placing advertising on them until they’ve reached 10,000 overall views.

YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc., also the parent company of Google, announced changes after several big companies pulled their advertising from the company because their ads were appearing with objectionable content.

The online video service said the changes are designed to make sure channels are legitimate and not stealing content.

In the past, the open-ended policy allowed amateur video creators to earn money and some work became viral and earned a considerable amount.

Several advertisers, including Walmart, General Motors, JPMorgan Chase, Pepsico, Starbucks and Johnson & Johnson, pulled out of YouTube after their ads appeared in extremist hate-speech videos.

YouTube, due to it’s reliance on advertisers and their growing reluctance to appear on fake news & hate filled stories is spearheading this response.

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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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Verizon Gives Up on Email Service

Do you use a Verizon email account? Pretty soon, that could be an AOL account. I missed this story entirely until my dad called me asking what he should do with his Verizon email account. At first I thought my dad was a victim of a phishing attack… but as is usually the case… my dad was right and I was wrong.

So after my dad called I did a little research and this is what I discovered.

Verizon has recently been notifying customers that it is giving up control of 4.5 million customer email accounts and will be migrating those accounts to AOL — a move that may give some flashbacks to the 1990’s. (Although I do not expect any free CD’s!)

Customers have 30 days to choose one of three options before they lose access to their accounts:

  1. Head over to AOL.
  2. Transfer their email to another provider or
  3. Leave their accounts alone to be deleted.

Verizon users who choose the AOL option will still be able to keep their existing addresses, which will carry the “verizon.net” ending. They will, however, have to let Verizon know that they want to hang on to their addresses and log in through AOL’s system from now on.

Why the change? According to an information page on Verizon’s website, the company stated that it realized there are “more capable email platforms out there”, including AOL Mail, which has been owned by Verizon since 2015.

Migrating from Verizon to AOL will apparently be easy. Users interested in keeping their email addresses will not have to do much. Verizon will migrate the contacts, calendars, email and other information to AOL for them.

Depending on your situation AOL may actually be the right choice, however this will also be a good time for many to look at service providers like Google & Microsoft.

For my dad, I am thinking AOL will be his best option.

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Hacking Made Easy

Network security is about to get a lot more complicated for IT departments.

Numerous hacking tools believed to be designed by the National Security Agency (NSA) recently hit the Internet, available at no charge to anyone who wants to download the files. The tools include 61 files that appear to target Windows machines.

The release of the hacking tools comes courtesy of the hacking collective calling itself the Shadow Brokers. The group previously announced that it planned to sell the tools to the highest bidders, but appeared to have backed off that plan after the sale failed to attract much interest.

This past Thursday, the group announced in a post written in broken English that it was ceasing its operations and would be going dark.

“TheShadowBrokers is deleting accounts and moving on so don’t be trying communications. “You are being disappointed? Nobody is being more disappointed than TheShadowBrokers.”

The post did not make it clear why the group decided to close its doors, although it did make reference to “political talk” and the increased risk inherent in its involvement with high-profile hacking cases.

While it is impossible to say for sure where the Shadow Brokers obtained the tools, samples of the malware files released by the group in August appeared to match programming code that had been obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden while working for the NSA, although he never released the files.

The tools are believed to have been designed by an outfit known as The Equation Group, itself a hacking team believed by many experts to be supported by the NSA.

The Hacking War Goes On

This may not be the end of the Shadow Brokers. The group said that it still has additional exploits and stolen passwords that it’s holding in reserve, which the group may release at a later date if it’s not paid to keep them off the market.

Why is the group is surrendering their most powerful tools now? According to one theory, the release is a sort of warning from the Russian government to the new U.S. administration not to escalate the ongoing cyber conflict between the two nations.

Another infamous hacker believed to be tied to the Russian government, Guccifer 2.0, also made an announcement the same day as the Shadow Brokers released the malware tools. Guccifer’s post denied reports from U.S. intelligence agencies that he or she is a Russian agent. Guccifer is the hacker who claimed responsibility for hacking into the emails of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and transmitting them to Wikileaks.

Will the 61 hacking tools that have been made available on the internet make it to a PC near you? Lets hope not. Today everyone should be using following good security practices – otherwise you really are taking a rick with your data and your personal information.

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Facebook’s Battle Against Fake News

Facebook is updating its “trending” feature that highlights hot topics on its social networking site, part of its effort to root out the kind of fake news stories that critics contend helped Donald Trump become president.

With the changes announced Wednesday, Facebook’s trending list will consist of topics being covered by several publishers. Before, it focused on subjects drawing the biggest crowds of people sharing or commenting on posts.

I believe it is this “focusing on the biggest crowds” that was Facebook’s error which resulted in so much fake news on people’s newsfeeds.

The switch is intended to make Facebook a more credible source of information by steering hordes of its 1.8 billion users toward topics that “reflect real world events being covered by multiple outlets,” Will Cathcart, the company’s vice president of product management, said in a blog post.

Facebook also will also stop customizing trending lists to cater to each user’s personal interests. Instead, everyone located in the same region will see the same trending lists, which currently appear in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and India.

This change in particular could widen the scope of information Facebook’s users see, instead of just topics that reinforce what they may have already heard or read elsewhere. The broader perspective might reduce the chances of Facebook’s users living in a “filter bubble” — only engaging with people and ideas with which they agree.

Questions about Facebook’s influence on what people are reading intensified last summer after a technology blog relying on an anonymous source reported that human editors routinely suppressed conservative viewpoints on the site.

Facebook fired the small group of journalists overseeing its trending items and replaced them with an algorithm that was supposed to be a more neutral judge about what to put on the list.

But the automated approach began to pick out posts that were getting the most attention, even if the information in them was bogus. Some of the fake news stories targeted Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, prompting critics to believe the falsehoods help Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially brushed off that notion as “crazy ,” but in December the company announced a slew of new measures to curb the spread of fake news.

To discourage the creation of fake news in the first place, Facebook also is banishing perpetual publishers of false information from its lucrative ad network.

Google, which operates an even larger digital ad network, has taken a similar stand against publishers of fake news.

My Take on Fake News

What are of this tells us is that social media and fake news is a very real problem and often results in people living in bubbles that they are comfortable with. This is very ironic considering that we have access to more information then ever before in human history. However people tend to only listen to what makes them comfortable and choose outlets that they agree with. This first happened with cable news channels (Fox News), now it is occurring on social media.

This is dangerous and suffocating to individual growth.

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Alexa will be Powering Sync Enabled Ford Vehicles

If you are the proud owner of a Ford with Sync3 check this out. Alexa is coming to Ford. For me this welcome be a welcome addition.

Exactly a year ago, Ford announced its plans to equip its vehicles with Amazon’s powerful voice-enabled service Alexa and it seems the auto-maker is finally closing in on its promise.

At CES, Ford announced that it will begin rolling out its new Alexa integration later this month. This means owners of Ford vehicles packing its Sync 3 entertainment system will be able to control their cars remotely by speaking to Alexa via the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Tap.

The implementation will take place in two phases, with a slew of additional features expected to follow later throughout the year.

The first stage will enable drivers to remotely turn the car engine on and off, check fuel levels as well as lock and unlock the doors. Eventually, Ford owners will be able to ask Alexa to find destinations, play music and read audiobooks, check news, place orders and control smart home appliances straight from the vehicle.

To connect Alexa to the internet, Ford is additionally implementing a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot capability on select Sync 3-equipped models. Powered by AT&T, the LTE hotspot will support up to 10 devices at a time.

The car-maker also announced its engineers are working on a solution which will allow Samsung Gear S2 and S3 owners to connect their smartwatches to Sync 3 for seamless integration with alerts and parking services.

That ought to make Ford’s new vehicles more appealing to gadget freaks, just like me.

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