Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks

Facebook Doesn’t Want Employers to Ask for Your Password

Posted by JenThorpe at 4:01 AM on March 29, 2012

Employers who are asking their current employees, or potential applicants, for their Facebook passwords need to watch out. Facebook has heard about this nasty practice, and is not the least bit pleased about it. An official statement was released by Erin Egan, the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook Policy.

I found it to be an interesting read. The statement points out that the practice of asking employees, or potential employees, for access to their Facebook profile or private information, is inappropriate. It is referring both to when an employer specifically asks for someone’s Facebook password and situations where the employer directs someone to access their own Facebook page while the employer “shoulder surfs” so that he or she can view the information that is on it.

This is more than a rude and inappropriate request, though. It is also a violation of Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” for a person to share their password, or for someone else to ask a Facebook user for their password.

Part of the official statement points out the many ways that an employer can have a legal liability issue as a result of demanding access to a worker’s, or applicant’s, Facebook page. For example, let’s say that an employer accesses the Facebook page of a person who is a member of a protected group.

Maybe the person is over a certain age, or is part of a minority group, or is gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual. If that information appears on the person’s Facebook page, and the employer fires, or chooses not to hire that person, it opens up the employer to a discrimination lawsuit.

What if an employer reads something on a person’s Facebook page that suggests that the person has committed a crime? This could be as simple as viewing a photo where it appears that an underage worker or applicant is drinking alcohol. Or, there could be information that indicates that the person was involved in a much more serious crime. The employer could now be held liable if they do not report that crime.

The most interesting quote from the statement, by far, is this one:

“We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges”.

In other words, Facebook is not simply going to stand idly by and allow this to happen. It seems to me that they are prepared to take employers who break the rules to court.

Image: Facebook Social Media by BigStock

iTwin Creates a Personal Cloud

Posted by Andrew at 10:57 AM on February 19, 2012

iTwin Infinite Capacity Thumb DriveiTwin is billed as an “infinite capacity thumb drive” but this sells the device short – it’s much more than this. Andy finds out what its capable of from Akash at CES Showstoppers.

The basic premise of iTwin is a pair of USB devices, one of which goes in your work desktop, the other in your home (or laptop) computer. Files can then be copied securely to and from the work computer across the internet to the laptop.

The devices are cryptographically paired together to ensure the security of the connection and the creators seem to have solutions for most of the issues that might arise, such as dynamic IPs or theft.

The brilliance of iTwin is that it offers a personal cloud solution where the data is completely under your control but not actually in your possession. No risk of theft, loss or nosey border guards rifling through your files.

Works with both Windows PCs and Mac – available now for $99.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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If You Live In or Visit Hawaii Your Rights are Being Threatened

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 7:12 PM on January 26, 2012

  The Bill of Rights The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”- 4th Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

What would you say if your state decided that your ISP had to keep records of all the Web sites you went too? That they had to keep records of both Internet protocol address and domain names of all sites that you visited and they had to keep them for a minimum of two years. That is what is being proposed in the Hawaiian State Legislation under H.B. 2288, which states that Internet destination history information and the subscriber’s information, such as name and address must be saved for no less than two years. I know what some of you are saying I don’t care if the government knows what Web sites I visit I have nothing to hide, or if you aren’t doing anything wrong what’s the problem.

Do you currently belong to any political or social organization like the Tea Party  and do you visit supporting Web sites a lot.  How would you feel if the government started investigating the Tea Party and started looking for information on its members. Now how do you feel about the legislation. Let’s take this to the real world, what if the government required the local retail stores to keep a record of every book you bought, every magazine article you read, the talk radio you listen too, the clubs you joined, the people you associated with, now how do you feel. If you are like me you are saying to yourself that’s none of the government business, well this legislation does exactly that only in the virtual world.

Rep. John Mizuno of Oahu is a lead sponsor of the bill and a similar bill is being introduced in the Hawaii Senate. The bills are being introduced at the behest of Representative Kimberly Marcos Pine, who is in the middle of a dispute with a web designer Eric Ryan, who launched and who says she owes him money. Her email was also hacked last summer, at the same time an article was written in the Hawaii Reporter about the dispute.  Because of these incidents Rep Pine has advocated tougher cyber laws. Those who support the legislation say that this type of law is necessary to “to protect people of Hawaii from these attacks and give prosecutors the tools to ensure justice is served for victims.” Unfortunately for the supporters of this bill, that is not how the law works in the United States, you can’t gather information on a large group of people in hopes that you may capture a few bad apples.

If the constitutionality of the bill is not enough there is also the question of what the Internet Provider can do with the information while they hold it. The bill says nothing about how the data should be stored or if it needs to be encrypted. There is no prohibition against the Internet Companies selling the information to anyone including advertiser or insurance agencies. So if you don’t care about the government having the information, how about your insurance company. The police aren’t even required to get a court order to view the information of anyone who uses a computer in Hawaii. This legislation would not only apply to Hawaiian residents but it would also apply to the 6 million tourist who visit the state each year. Which mean coffee shops, hotels, bookstore or anyone else with a public wi-fi would have sweeping requirements and cost put upon them.

We all want the bad guy to be caught and stopped, but not if it means giving up our rights and freedoms. Although SOPA and PIPA were stopped last week in the U.S. Congress, the fight over our rights and freedoms on the Internet is on going, it has simply moved to state legislation, we all need to remain vigilant.

Malls Will Not Track You For Now

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 9:56 AM on November 29, 2011

This is an update to the article I wrote on the 26th of November Malls Maybe Tracking Your Cellphone. A brief background, two malls in the United States, the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va, where planning to test Footpath by Path Intelligence, a technology which allows malls to track the path of their costumers. One of the concerns that I and others brought up was the issue of privacy. The fact that in order to opt out of the tracking you had to turn off your cellphone, which isn’t realistic in today’s world. This issue was also brought up in a letter by Senator Charles Schumer of New York. In a press conference and also in a letter to the mall and the FTC, Senator Schumer stated “A shopper’s personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers,” Schumer said in a press conference on Sunday. “Personal cell phones are just that—personal. If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so.” He especially had an issue with the idea that a consumer had to opt out of the tracking by turning their cellphone off. He stated this should be something consumers opt into and not opt out. Forest City which owns both the malls has not abandoned the plan entirely, but is trying to find a way to make it opt in. Path Intelligence the maker of Footpath, insist that this method of tracking is no different than cookies on the Internet. This maybe true, but I can manage online cookies, while this is an opt in or opt out period. I don’t expect this technology to go away, but it does need to be updated to be opt in.

Malls Maybe Tracking Your Cellphone

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 4:22 PM on November 26, 2011 are constantly trying to track shoppers activities, to try to attract more consumers to their stores and improve their sales. They use various methods to do this including shopper cards and newspaper inserts just to name a few. A couple of malls are testing a new technology called Footpath by Path Intelligence. Footpath tracks the movement of consumers by their cellphone. It has the ability to track the consumer to within a few meters of where they are. The information is then feed to a central processing center, where it is audited and studied to create a continual updated report on the flow of shoppers throughout a store or mall. It can be used to better place stores in a mall and merchandise within a store.

According to the Path website, it works by tracking random signals from mobile phones. The system does not collect or view phone numbers, SMS messages, or listen to calls. The information it collects can not identify an individual caller. The detector units can only be accessed by trained personal, mall employees do not have access to the tracking device. So the tracking devices can not be combined with other information by mall employees to get more detailed and individual information. It is aggregated information and not real-time that is provided to client. Path also has agreed not to access any third-party information that could in combination with Footpath identify individuals. Despite these promises some privacy experts are concerned about the misuse of the technology by both Path and their clients. Mark Rasch, the director of cyber security at CSC stated.

“Although this mall technology might not identify specific individuals, it raises a bunch of privacy red flags,” he wrote. “First, the instant the consumer identifies himself or herself anywhere in the mall (say, by using a credit or debit card to buy something), it is a trivial task to cross reference the cell phone data with the payment data and realize that the person hanging around outside the Victoria’s Secret dressing room was your 70-year-old neighbor.”(via We’re watching: malls track shopper’s cell phone signals to gather marketing data)

At this point only two malls in the United States are testing the technology, the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. They will be testing it thru New Year’s Day. Both malls have signs throughout their location telling shoppers that their cellphones are being tracked and they can opt out of the system by turning their phones off. In today’s world where most people are never without their phones, this seems an unlikely choice. The system is also being tested in some malls in Europe and Australia. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this technology and it’s uses being tested in court by privacy advocates. However since malls are private properties courts tend to give them a lot of leeway.

Choices and Decisions

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 11:49 AM on October 17, 2011

ChoicesOne of the things that we face everyday in the real world and online are choices. However, studies show that if people are given a default choice, along with others most people will choose the default choice. This is true in the both in the real world and online. Advertisers, companies like Google, Facebook and even politicians have known this for years. This is one of the main reasons that politicians fight hard to be first on the ballot and companies always list their preferred choice as the default choice when they have to give consumers an option. If you are a Facebook user, you know that one of the biggest complaints against Facebook is that the option to share your information has always been the default one. Facebook wants the user to make this choice and they know that most users will opt for the default choice. Often if you choose something other than the default choice you have to jump through multiple hoops to set up that choice up. Facebook is not alone in this type of behavior. This is a major reason that Google pays Mozilla and estimated 100 million dollars a year to be its default search engine.

Why are decisions made this way by consumers. Part of it is laziness, it is just easier to use the default choice, consumers often feel overwhelmed when given a lot of choices. However it is more than that, subconsciously we see the default choice as the one that the authorities recommend and therefore the best choice. This is one of the major issues that the Federal Trade Commission is dealing with when it comes to the issue of privacy online. Advertisers and companies like Facebook and Google want the choices they give to consumers to be self-regulated. Privacy advocates would like there to be more government oversight and regulation. Unfortunately for privacy advocates more choices is not the answer. When users are provided with multiple privacy tool options they often find the choices confusing and too complicated. Often they make choices that do little to protect their privacy, whether they want that protection or not. So more choices is clearly not the answer. The answer may be fewer choices, with the default one being at a higher privacy setting being key.
To read more about default choices and the impact they have on our decision-making process see the New York Times article The Default Choice, So Hard to Resist.

OnStar Still Collecting Data After You’ve Cancel Service

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 12:58 PM on September 26, 2011

onStarUnder a recent change in policy, OnStar which is owned by GM continues to connect to your vehicle and collect information about it even after you have cancelled your account. This change of policy goes into effect Dec 1. This information includes speed, location, odometer reading and seatbelt usage. Information that could be used by both law enforcement and insurance companies among others to both the aid and detriment of the consumer. OnStar stated they reserve the right to share this information with interested third parties, including law enforcement, although they do not do so at this time. OnStar stated that this allows them to communicate to the cars occupants about severe weather, emergency evacuation, and recalls. OnStar also insist that this information is clearly stated in the Terms of Service (TOS) and customers should be aware of it. It is unclear however, whether this is something that OnStar informs the customer when they cancel their service or is it something that the customer has to bring up. This is clearly an opt out service and not an opt in service. Let’s assume that consumers read the TOS when they first get the service and are aware they have to deactivate the data connection when they cancel service to stop OnStar from collecting data. Are they really going to remember this when they actually cancel service, I doubt it and I bet OnStar is betting on this. This change of policy has raise the ire of several Senators including Senator Schumer (NY), Al Franken (MN) and Christopher Coons (DE). They have all called upon Onstar to change it’s policy, Senator Schumer has also requested the FTC to launch and investigation.

First I am presently not a user of OnStar, none of the cars I own have it installed. A few rental cars I used in the past have had it installed. So I have never had to cancel the service. However when I cancel service with a business this means to me and I think most consumer, that my contract and connection to that business has been totally severed. It doesn’t mean the business can continue to collect information about me and that’s alright because it’s for my safety. Why OnStar thought that consumers would be ok with this is beyond me, or perhaps more likely they thought no one would notice. The second question is why OnStar is collecting this information in the first place, if not to sell it. With over 6 million willing customers from which they can collect information from, do they really need to collect information from ex-customers. Finally what prompted the change in policy and did anyone at OnStar say wait this might be a bad idea.


Posted by Andrew at 12:34 AM on August 16, 2011

Depending on your point of view either strips the final layers of privacy from a narcisstic world or else provides a handy one-stop signposting to your Web 2.0 presence. As their tag line says, “It’s all about you.”

Like many people, your online life isn’t restricted to just one social media site. You have your friends on Facebook, your work colleagues on LinkedIn, random acquaintances on Twitter and family on Flickr. When it comes to pointing someone to “you” on-line, there’s no one place to go and this is where comes in. At, you can set up a cool picture and a biography, plus links to all of the social sites that you subscribe to.

To get an idea of what it’s like, here’s the page of one of the founders, Tony Conrad. Looks pretty cool doesn’t it? There are editing tools to setup your page just as you’d like and there are stock designs if you don’t have a good photograph to use. To further appeal to the cult of me, will provide statistics and graphics on who has been looking at your page.

It’s all very seductive, isn’t it. But let’s just have a little reality check here…this brings together your whole on-line life. Everything is linked to from one place, so if someone, say a prospective employer, wants to research you then it’s all there for them. They don’t even have to do any digging. Of course, you could have two profiles, one for your public persona and one for your private life… seems to be backed by AOL amongst other investors and you might recognise a few of their advisors too.

The landrush for good names is underway, but I think the site has only been up a couple of months so I was able to snag my name without any numbers. If you are interested, I’d pop over and grab your page just in case gets big.

Social Media Propaganda

Posted by Andrew at 2:35 PM on August 10, 2011

Aaron Wood is selling these thought-provoking social media propaganda posters through Etsy. They’re brilliant on so many levels, bringing wartime effort to Big Brother and a line that is so close to being crossed without us even knowing. There are nine posters in the series, so check them all out and buy one.


How Far Should a Job Background Check Go?

Posted by susabelle at 10:49 AM on February 23, 2011

As I am now on the prowl for a new job since I am being laid off from my current one, I’m thinking about all the things that could go wrong.  My credit might not be good enough, and is that speeding ticket I got a couple years ago going to be a problem?  And what about my online presence and activities?  How much of that will be a determining factor?  How far, really, will an employer attempt to go to dig into who I am and what I do with my life?

In the case of the Maryland Department of Corrections, background checks now require applicants (and those getting recertified or taking promotions to new jobs) provide their facebook username and password.  I, personally and professionally, think this is  a step too far.  What’s to stop them from asking me for my email accounts and passwords, and the usernames and passwords of any accounts I may have on a news website, blogging site, or forum or bulletin board?  At what point will they want to know what I watched on television last night, what YouTube videos I may have searched for, and what political, religious, or medical terms I may have Googled last week?  Where does the invasion of privacy end?

I purposely set my facebook privacy settings pretty high.  I am careful who I friend, and careful whose profiles I post on.  In other endeavors, I do blog on several websites, under my name, but none of these are likely to be issues, I don’t think.  I have other blogs that I post to that do not use my name at all, for good reason.  And my emails?  Well, aren’t those privileged communications too?  It would be like a potential employer asking for the box of love letters I keep under my bed that were between my husband and I when we were courting.  Pretty rude, even at just face value.

The ACLU has sent a letter off to the Maryland DOC asking them to cease the practice, and they have agreed to suspend it until they have given it a closer look.  But it seems to me that it should have never been a policy that was implemented in the first place.  While I understand the need to be sure that a potential employee is not a danger to the job, clients, or organization, I think there are limits on what it is okay to ask people to provide.  Yes, we should all be careful what we post online, who we connect with, and what information we give out.  But when it comes to personal communications, I think those need to be completely off-limits to any potential employer.

Would love to hear thoughts and comments on this.