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Friday, April 11, 2014

In a prying world, news organizations are struggling to encrypt their online products of Abney and Associates Tech Research

The old-fashioned newspaper, long maligned for its stodginess and sagging profits, has one advantage over high-tech alternatives: You read it. It never reads you.

The digital sources that increasingly dominate our news consumption, by contrast, transmit information across the fundamentally public sphere of the Internet, leaving trails visible to anyone with the right monitoring tools — be it your employer, your Internet provider, your government or even the scruffy hacker sitting next to you at the coffee shop, sharing the WiFi signal.

This is why privacy advocates have begun pushing news organizations, including The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Guardian, to encrypt their Web sites, as many technology companies increasingly do for e-mails, video chats and search queries.

The growing use of encryption — signaled by the little lock icon in your browser’s address box — has emerged as perhaps the most concrete response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the ability of the National Security Agency to collect almost anything that exists in digital form, including the locations, communications and online activities of people worldwide.

It’s only fair, say privacy advocates, that The Post and other news organizations that broke these stories heed their key lesson: Online surveillance is pervasive and voracious, especially when data is unprotected.

Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings. A single article might mean little, but Big Data companies constantly collect and crunch a broad range of personal information to produce profiles of each of us.

“You could paint a pretty detailed picture of a person — their likes and dislikes — if you could see the articles they’re reading,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, one of several groups pushing for wider use of encryption.

Encryption may seem a stretch as a press freedom issue, far from what concerned the Founding Fathers when they enshrined the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Yet a free press operates best when the public can make reading decisions without fear that their government — or anyone capable of doing them harm — is looking over their shoulder.

Encrypting something as complex as a news site is enormously difficult, according to technical experts within the industry. Several major news organizations offered encryption for some elements of their sites in recent years but largely stopped when problems arose in displaying content quickly and cleanly to readers, said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which tracks the use of the technology.

Continue reading at The Washington Post

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Abney and Associates Tech Research: Bitcoin gets easier to buy and spend

It's getting easier for consumers to buy and spend bitcoin, the cybercurrency that has captured much of the tech world.

With each passing month, Bay Area entrepreneurs are rolling out new technology for consumers to buy and store bitcoin, shop online with the virtual currency and send it to friends. Last week, a bitcoin ATM was unveiled in Mountain View -- put in a few hundred bucks, out comes a bitcoin. And more retailers -- from consumer electronics to coffee roasters and pizza delivery -- are accepting bitcoin, making it easier for consumers to choose the Internet currency over dollars.

"It's all about to change over the next 12 to 24 months," said Marshall Hayner, a San Francisco entrepreneur who this month will launch bitcoin app QuickCoin. "We are going to see all kinds of people adopt it. It's going to power transactions on the Internet."

Bitcoin is a cybercurrency and payments network created in 2009 by a mathematical formula as an alternative to banks and government-controlled currency systems. Bitcoins are added one at a time to the network by computer programmers around the world, and most bitcoin is bought and traded on global Internet exchanges.

The Bay Area bitcoin community is filled with entrepreneurs and investors pouring millions of dollars into their projects. But for the rest of us, still buying with cash and plastic, bitcoin is a bit of a mystery.

"You've got people out there who are software engineers who don't understand it," said Vinny Lingham, co-founder of Gyft, a San Francisco digital gift card app that accepts bitcoin. "It's far too complicated out there for the average consumer to understand. But that will change."

Cary Peters is hoping to uncomplicated bitcoin for consumers with the ATM he unveiled at Hacker Dojo, a nonprofit shared tech space in Mountain View. His is the first bitcoin ATM in California, and anyone can use it by setting up an account with a phone number, ID, and face and palm scan, which is used to run a background check to rule out potential fraud.

"Regulation has to be implemented," Peters said, a position rarely heard in the libertarian bitcoin community, but one that experts say is necessary to gain the trust of consumers. After about five minutes, the machine sends a text message that the user can start buying and selling bitcoin. Many bitcoin websites take about four or more days for transactions, and that delay doesn't work for everyone.

"Something you decide you want to do today you may not want to do in four days," said Hami Lerner, a Sunnyvale resident who works in tech and visited the ATM on Tuesday. Bitcoin valuation can fluctuate wildly on any day; in February, it fell more than 85 percent in less than two hours. Recently valuation has ranged between about $450 and $500, about half its all-time high of more than $1,200 in November.

Read full article at Mercury News

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Abney and Associates Tech Research: The Credit Card of Tomorrow

SINCE the 1970s, paying with plastic has been pretty standard everywhere: Customers swiped their cards, signed receipts and took home their purchases.

But after security breaches at Target late last year led to the loss of personal data from as many as 110 million customers, the financial industry is racing to adopt technologies that will alter that decades-old ritual.

Driven largely by security concerns, credit card companies and issuers say they are working to make the system as consumers know it obsolete through smart chips and advanced computer programming.

To many, it is about time. The roots of the magnetic strip on credit cards extend back to World War II, ample time for thieves to learn to hack and steal those black lines of prized account information.

Credit card fraud totaled nearly $5.3 billion in the United States alone in 2012, giving the industry plenty of incentive to devise a better system. The amount lost to fraud continues to grow by 30 to 50 percent a year, according to estimates from the Aite Group, a research company.

Efforts to bolster card security were underway well before hackers broke into the systems of Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels and other store chains. But the recent data breaches injected new urgency into adopting newer technology.

“I think this will become a defining moment about how we in the industry think about security,” said Eileen Serra, the chief executive of Chase Card Services.

The credit card industry, especially in the United States, has long relied on increasingly sophisticated analytical programs to weed out potentially fraudulent transactions. But it has also focused on a handful of technologies it contends will better protect customers in stores and online.

One is placing microprocessors onto cards, a standard known as E.M.V. for its initial backers: Europay, MasterCard and Visa. Another is known as tokenization, a way of masking consumers’ card information over the Internet.

Read full article at The New York Times

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Abney and Associates Tech Research: Bitcoin Regulation Roundup

Rumours, Court Cases and Taxing Times

Regulatory attitudes towards crypto currencies around the world are shifting. Hardly a day goes by without a central bank issuing a warning on the digital currency. However, it’s not all bad news – as some authorities are taking a much more positive approach.

In CoinDesk’s regulation roundup, Certified Public Accountant and ACFE Certified Fraud Examiner Jason Tyra examines the most significant digital currency news from the world’s regulators and law courts over the past two weeks.

USA: Bitcoin is property, says IRS

The US Internal Revenue Service issued a notice in late March that classified bitcoin as property for purposes of taxation, clarified that mined bitcoins are taxable at the time they are received, and specified that bitcoins received in connection with a trade or business or as wages are subject to withholding and/or payment of Medicare or social security taxes.

The reaction among US bitcoiners was mixed. Treatment as a capital asset grants access to preferential capital gains rates for bitcoins held longer than a year and a day, but imposes the burden of tracking basis and gain for every bitcoin received or spent.

This is good news for US taxpayers using bitcoin as a store of wealth, but terrible news for those who might use it as a means of exchange.

The subtleties and implications of the IRS notification are likely to fuel debate among US bitcoin enthusiasts for months to come: for example, the IRS did not specify whether taxpayers exchanging bitcoins for other crypto-currencies would be entitled to defer taxable gain under like-kind exchange rules.

Rejection of non-functional (otherwise known as ‘foreign’) currency treatment by the IRS has also created uncertainty as to the implications, if any, for FinCEN’s designation of bitcoin as a monetary instrument.

USA: Texas following NY example?

The Texas Department of Banking released a letter this week addressed to “virtual currency companies operating or desiring to operate in Texas” that declared that, “because cryptocurrency is not money under the Money Services Act, receiving it in exchange for a promise to make it available at a later time or different location is not money transmission” in the state.

However, since the Texas Department of Banking is a state-level agency, its declaration has no impact on FinCEN’s federal registration requirements.

Texas has aggressively cultivated a business-friendly climate in recent years, poaching a number of high-profile companies from higher tax and higher regulation states. Austin, Texas is especially well known as a progressive hub for technology companies, including many bitcoin startups.

Read full article at CoinDesk

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Abney and Associates Tech Research: If you block ads, then websites may block you

Adblock Plus wants you to sign its acceptable ads manifesto, but general counsel for a large advertising bureau called it a ransom before warning if you continue to block ads then websites may block you from accessing their content.

While it's mostly tech-savvy surfers who install Adblock Plus browser plug-in, an advertising bureau suggested that websites will fight ad-blocking by blocking the content with an error message or a paywall if you use an ad blocker.

"Advertising is the economic engine that drives the Internet and gives us free websites and great content," but as click-through rates decline, ads get more annoying in order to grab surfers' attention. Eyeo, the creators of Adblock Plus, wrote:

We don't want obtrusive pop-ups, or obnoxious blinking ads, or 30-second pre-roll video ads running amok on our computers and mobile phones. We wouldn't tolerate that in the physical world; why should we accept them just because it's digital? Imagine a billboard jumping in front of your car while on the freeway, or a newspaper ad suddenly opening up and covering all the words you are reading. Why should online ads get special treatment? Moreover, the noisier that online ads get, the more people install ad blockers to stop them. It's an unwinnable, downward spiral.

Starting with Adblock Plus 2.0, not all advertising was blocked; in fact, if an ad meets the criteria for being "acceptable," then it shows up by default. Surfers can disable that feature, usually by unchecking "allow non-intrusive advertising," or under filter lists options like below, but the thought process is to leave it enabled to reward websites that rely on "non-intrusive" ads for revenue.

By not blocking acceptable ads, Eyeo believes it will show there is a market for them and encourage advertisers to create more.  As part of that cycle, the company wants people and organizations to sign its "Acceptable Ads Manifesto;" the five principal tenets are:

·         Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
·         Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we're trying to read.
·         Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
·         Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
·         Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Abney And Associates Technology - How much is too much for kids?

We live in a technological age where it often seems that everything is coming at us all at once and information overload is the edge of a cliff we teeter on daily. My son, who is not even 3 years old, plays games on my iPad and has his own tablet – a Nabi. Watching him navigate the programs – some educational and some not – has led me to question whether it serves a greater good or harmful to his cognitive development.

I know he is learning hand-eye coordination and being exposed to a great many ideas, enhanced vocabulary and even the beginnings of critical thinking skills, but is there a hidden cost? Parenting magazine had an article entitled “The Right Technology for Kids at Every Age.” The answer, according to the article’s author, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe M.D., the American Academy of Pediatric’s tech expert, isn’t entirely helpful in settling the question. She believes, “there really is no ‘right’ age to allow our kids to dip a toe into the digital pond.”

O’Keeffe proclaims that thanks to technology we are free to open “the mind to an almost endless expanse of knowledge.” She went on to list different devices and apps and what your child should be able to do with such devices at different ages. The only warning I found was about cell phones emitting electromagnetic fields and a child’s developing skull being thinner than that of an adult. But doesn’t knowledge of any sort require a context, a level of maturity to process and value it? Can we integrate knowledge and use it without that gate? Should we even try? On that, O’Keefe is silent.

This complicated issue definitely involves balance – allowing your child some exposure while also making sure they have equal or more time to use their imaginations, read books and play games that do not require batteries.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Abney And Associates - Technology reveals your life on social media


How easy is it to use social media to find out what people are doing, without them realizing they are being watched? It took me less than two minutes to not only identify where a randomly chosen 16-yearold girl lives, goes to school and hangs out with friends, but also to pinpoint within three houses where she babysits. And when she's home alone with the kids.

From the Google Street View of those houses, it's a fair guess she is at the one with all the toys in the yard.

I learned she plays soccer, is in French immersion, and is probably a skier or snowboarder if the resort where she spent Spring Break is any indication. I can probably correctly identify where she went to elementary school. I know what she looks like, and I can recognize her friends. And once I know where she lives, it's not a big stretch to guess her parents' identity.

Creepy? Yes. Hard to do? No. Just ask Karl Swannie, founder of Victoria technology start-up EchoSec, a company that has created a search engine that mines close to 500 data feeds, including social media networks and open data from governments and the private sector - the search engine I used to randomly pick out a traveller at the Vancouver airport to see how much I could learn from their digital trail.

If it hadn't been for EchoSec aggregating everything posted from a location in a single search, it would have been difficult to pick out the teen's single Twitter post from millions of others. What sets EchoSec apart from other search technology is its ability to "geo-fence" - that is, to draw a virtual line around a building or an area, and to tap into all the publicly available data from that location. That means not only social media feeds but open data that could include everything from live webcam feeds to government information. "It definitely opened my eyes," said Swannie. "There's a level of education that has to happen out there. People have to be aware that (their digital postings are) permanent, it's public. This is definitely a new way to visualize the data."