SXSW: Microsoft’s danah boyd on Chatroulette, Google Buzz and the Future of Privacy

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Microsoft researcher danah boyd (she prefers no caps) presented a pretty bleak picture of how privacy and publicity is managed online today in her SXSW Interactive keynote. Targeting Chatroulette, FacebookGoogle Buzz as examples, boyd says consumers have no idea what they are sharing online–and that the business that build social networks don’t either.

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Apple’s iPad Could Kill The Mac

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By Sascha Segan

The Mac’s greatest enemy may not be Microsoft Windows. It may be Apple itself. In a conversation at a Goldman Sachs technology conference, Apple COO Tim Cook said that Apple is a “mobile devices company,” and that more devices will get the iPhone OS. A bit later, AT&T’s CEO said the iPad would mostly be a Wi-Fi (read: home) product rather than something you tote around and use on the street. Keep reading…

Why Chrome Will be Your Next Browser

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Google Chrome‘s market share numbers are skyrocketing, blowing past Safari and Opera to become the number three most-widely-used Web browser. That’s pretty impressive, and I don’t think it’s going to stop there. I fully expect it to overtake Firefox and challenge, if not beat, Microsoft Internet Explorer sometime in the next 5 years.

It took Firefox most of this decade to achieve its solid number two status, but the one-and-a-half-year-old Chrome is growing faster and, in some ways, developing more quickly than Firefox ever did. The question, though, is not whether or not Chrome will beat other browsers, but why it is rising while Firefox seems to have stalled or is falling.

Over the years, most tech-savvy users I’ve talked to have said they run Firefox. It’s faster—I agree—and it has amazing features, which is true. The Awesome bar, also known as Firefox’s address bar, works better than virtually any other address bar in the business. When I start to type in a URL, its best guesses are almost always on target. Those same tech-savvy users have always touted Firefox’s extensive add-on library. I use a handful of them, but I’m not an extension nut like some people I know. I find it fascinating how, say, a “27 Best Firefox Extensions” story can kill on Digg and drive thousands of page views. What, exactly, is the attraction to stuff you can add to your browser? Does everything we use need to be customized?

Firefox has also, traditionally, been faster than the competition. It usually loaded pages lickety split, and it did so with an admirable level of precision. The pages looked the way they should and everything worked—most of the time.

Here at PCMag, many of our developers use Firefox when coding updates for our Web sites. That was fine until I tried to look at the updates in Internet Explorer and wondered why they didn’t work. I’d march over to the developer and wag my finger in his face, “Why are you coding for Firefox? Don’t you know that 90 percent of the Web uses Internet Explorer?” This was years ago, of course. The developer would smile and shrug his shoulders. Eventually, he’d fix the code so it worked in Internet Explorer as well.

In essence, Firefox had the growing support of average consumers and the critical support of early adopters, the tech-heads who were building the Web.

When Google launched Chrome in 2008, it was almost laughably under-powered, but it was wicked fast. It let you search right inside the address bar (a feature I love to this day) and loaded pretty much every page (almost always with an odd HTML translation error or two). Wonkiness aside, it just worked. We were all impressed with Google’s first effort. Chrome beta was followed in a remarkably short time by a full-blown first version. Now, less than 2 years later, we’re testing Google Chrome 4.0. Firefox is still beta testing version 3.6!

As Chrome has risen, something disturbing has happened on the Firefox side. I’ve heard grumblings from people who previously supported Firefox, saying that it seemed slower, bloated, and, worse yet, that it’s a resource hog. This is the worst thing you can say about a Web browser.

Web browsers are the ultimate Internet utility and the one that we most need to get the heck out of the way. If using it is weighing your system down, then it’s no good. All modern browsers—Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Firefox, and Chrome—use tabbed browsing. This means they all have to manage multiple instances of themselves, with each one featuring full-blown Web pages that could be running everything from basic HTML to Flash video. I do not envy the developer’s task.

Microsoft has made some strides with Internet Explorer, a perennial resource hog. It’s a slightly better task citizen. Still, each tab is a separate process and all of them together can bring your system to a halt. Firefox lumps all the tasks into one, but the overall process number can get pretty big and, to be honest, it can get a bit slow at times. What’s worse is when it becomes unstable and crashes. Internet Explorer does this, too. Chrome spawns multiple processes when you launch new tabs as well, but it just seems to handle the whole thing better.

Every week I participate in a radio show where I have to answer listener’s questions. I can answer some questions off the top of my head, but with some, I need an assist. Usually, my Web site or a search engine can help me unlock at least the start of the answer. But once I find something, I don’t want to switch away from that Web page, so I open a new tab. I used to try this with IE and with Firefox. After a half dozen tabs, both made my system feel like it was swimming through molasses. Not Chrome. I open almost a dozen tabs and it still simply screams.

At its core, Google Chrome is a very good Web browser (I know it, like Safari, is based on Webkit, but I could never warm up to Safari.). It’s still not as full featured as competitors and there are, to this day, pages (even my own that it does not render 100 percent correctly. On the other hand, Google is updating the browser on an almost weekly basis. Recently, it added bookmark sync and now it has a growing list of extensions—just like Firefox.

As it grows more popular, Chrome will surely suffer from one of the growing pains common among popular Web browsers: Someone will exploit its vulnerabilities. Google automatically updates Chrome when you launch it, so I’m positive it’ll take care of these issues as soon as they crop up.

Microsoft and Mozilla may be glancing confidently in their side-view mirrors right now, pleased that Chrome is, at just 5 percent, a mere spec in the distance. However, they may want to pay closer attention to that little note printed faintly on the glass: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”

Originally posted to PCMag.

Google adds multitouch and better 3G to its Nexus One

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A Tuesday software update for Google’s Nexus One added the much-coveted multi-touch support to the search engine giant’s smartphone. The upgrade, which Google started sending to users today, adds a pinch-to-zoom mechanism in the Nexus One’s browser, gallery, and maps application.

In addition to multi-touch, Google also added Goggles to the phone, and updated Google Maps and the phone’s 3G connectivity. Goggles, which identifies objects via your phone’s camera, will be available on the Nexus One via the All Apps menu. “Just use your Nexus One camera to start searching the web,” Google said in a blog post.

On the Maps front, Google is rolling out Maps 3.4, which, among other things, will allow users to synchronize starred items and search suggestions between the phone and PC. Access favorite places and make it easier to search for places you’ve searched for before, Google said.
The update also includes night mode in Google Maps Navigation, which changes your screen at night for easier viewing and driving. The function turns on near sunset and off near sunrise, according to a Google spokesperson.

Google will send the update to user’s notification bar, where it can be downloaded. It will be rolled out gradually, so everyone might not receive it until week’s end, Google said.

Motorola, which produces the Android-based Droid smartphone, did not immediately respond to questions about the future of multi-touch on the Droid.

Originally posted to Gearlog.

The 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now

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In December, Facebook made a series of bold and controversial changes regarding the nature of its users’ privacy on the social networking site. The company once known for protecting privacy to the point of exclusivity (it began its days as a network for college kids only – no one else even had access), now seemingly wants to compete with more open social networks like the microblogging media darling Twitter.

Those of you who edited your privacy settings prior to December’s change have nothing to worry about – that is, assuming you elected to keep your personalized settings when prompted by Facebook’s “transition tool.” The tool, a dialog box explaining the changes, appeared at the top of Facebook homepages this past month with its own selection of recommended settings. Unfortunately, most Facebook users likely opted for the recommended settings without really understanding what they were agreeing to. If you did so, you may now be surprised to find that you inadvertently gave Facebook the right to publicize your private information including status updates, photos, and shared links.

Want to change things back? Read on to find out how.

1. Who Can See The Things You Share (Status Updates, Photo, Videos, etc.)

Probably the most critical of the “privacy” changes (yes, we mean those quotes sarcastically) was the change made to status updates. Although there’s now a button beneath the status update field that lets you select who can view any particular update, the new Facebook default for this setting is “Everyone.” And by everyone, they mean everyone.

If you accepted the new recommended settings then you voluntarily gave Facebook the right to share the information about the items you post with any user or application on the site. Depending on your search settings, you may have also given Facebook the right to share that information with search engines, too.

To change this setting back to something of a more private nature, do the following:

  1. From your Profile page, hover your mouse over the Settings menu at the top right and click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears.
  2. Click “Profile Information” from the list of choices on the next page.
  3. Scroll down to the setting “Posts by Me.” This encompasses anything you post, including status updates, links, notes, photos, and videos.
  4. Change this setting using the drop-down box on the right. We recommend the “Only Friends” setting to ensure that only those people you’ve specifically added as a friend on the network can see the things you post.

2. Who Can See Your Personal Info

Facebook has a section of your profile called “personal info,” but it only includes your interests, activities, and favorites. Other arguably more personal information is not encompassed by the “personal info” setting on Facebook’s Privacy Settings page. That other information includes things like your birthday, your religious and political views, and your relationship status.

After last month’s privacy changes, Facebook set the new defaults for this other information to viewable by either “Everyone” (for family and relationships, aka relationship status) or to “Friends of Friends” (birthday, religious and political views). Depending on your own preferences, you can update each of these fields as you see fit. However, we would bet that many will want to set these to “Only Friends” as well. To do so:

  1. From your Profile page, hover your mouse over the Settings menu at the top right and click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears.
  2. Click “Profile Information” from the list of choices on the next page.
  3. The third, fourth, and fifth item listed on this page are as follows: “birthday,” “religious and political views,” and “family and relationship.” Locking down birthday to “Only Friends” is wise here, especially considering information such as this is often used in identity theft.
  4. Depending on your own personal preferences, you may or may not feel comfortable sharing your relationship status and religious and political views with complete strangers. And keep in mind, any setting besides “Only Friends” is just that – a stranger. While “Friends of Friends” sounds innocuous enough, it refers to everyone your friends have added as friends, a large group containing hundreds if not thousands of people you don’t know. All it takes is one less-than-selective friend in your network to give an unsavory person access to this information.

3. What Google Can See – Keep Your Data Off the Search Engines

When you visit Facebook’s Search Settings page, a warning message pops up. Apparently, Facebook wants to clear the air about what info is being indexed by Google. The message reads:

There have been misleading rumors recently about Facebook indexing all your information on Google. This is not true. Facebook created public search listings in 2007 to enable people to search for your name and see a link to your Facebook profile. They will still only see a basic set of information.

While that may be true to a point, the second setting listed on this Search Settings page refers to exactly what you’re allowing Google to index. If the box next to “Allow” is checked, you’re giving search engines the ability to access and index any information you’ve marked as visible by “Everyone.” As you can see from the settings discussed above, if you had not made some changes to certain fields, you would be sharing quite a bit with the search engines…probably more information than you were comfortable with. To keep your data private and out of the search engines, do the following:

  1. From your Profile page, hover your mouse over the Settings menu at the top right and click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears.
  2. Click “Search” from the list of choices on the next page.
  3. Click “Close” on the pop-up message that appears.
  4. On this page, uncheck the box labeled “Allow” next to the second setting “Public Search Results.” That keeps all your publicly shared information (items set to viewable by “Everyone”) out of the search engines. If you want to see what the end result looks like, click the “see preview” link in blue underneath this setting.

Take 5 Minutes to Protect Your Privacy

While these three settings are, in our opinion, the most critical, they’re by no means the only privacy settings worth a look. In a previous article (written prior to December’s changes, so now out-of-date), we also looked at things like who can find you via Facebook’s own search, application security, and more.

While you may think these sorts of items aren’t worth your time now, the next time you lose out on a job because the HR manager viewed your questionable Facebook photos or saw something inappropriate a friend posted on your wall, you may have second thoughts. But why wait until something bad happens before you address the issue?

Considering that Facebook itself is no longer looking out for you, it’s time to be proactive about things and look out for yourself instead. Taking a few minutes to run through all the available privacy settings and educating yourself on what they mean could mean the world of difference to you at some later point…That is, unless you agree with Facebook in thinking that the world is becoming more open and therefore you should too.

Note: Other resources on Facebook’s latest changes worth reading include MakeUseOf’s 8 Steps Toward Regaining your Privacy, 17 steps to protect your privacy from Inside Facebook, the ACLU’s article examining the changes, and’s comprehensive analysis of the new settings. If you’re unhappy enough to protest Facebook’s privacy update, you can sign ACLU’s petition. The FTC is also looking into the matter thanks to a complaint filed by a coalition of privacy groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. You can add your voice to the list of complaints here.

Originally posted to The New York Times.

Sexting and the Single Girl by Jhon C. Dvorak

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These seven tips can save your kids—and you—from a lifetime of online embarrassment.

The Internet is often eternal. Once something appears on it, someone will invariably keep a copy of it—or the thing will simply stay online forever. Just as the rest of us are finally forgetting that video of the chubby kid prancing around the room with his light saber, someone will reintroduce it to a whole new generation of viewers. When this kid turns 60, I guarantee that someone will pull out the video at his birthday party.

Parents and siblings do enough damage riding their own immediate family members about their missteps as a four-year-old. But in-family embarrassment has nothing on the Internet. Family faux pas is seldom self-inflicted—most of the Internet’s embarrassing moments, however, are created by the targets themselves.

Tech-savvy parents—I include myself in that group—often lecture their kids about how every dumb thing they do on the Internet will never be forgotten. It’s like a tattoo. As for tattoos, I’ve prevented my kids from getting those by reminding them that they’re like buying a dumb sweater and wearing it for the rest of their lives. Posting dumb things on the Internet is worse. At least there’s a painful process to remove the tattoo. The Internet has no such safe guard. If something actually does disappear, that’s just luck. And there’s also the Wayback Machine for looking at those old pages that have been cached forever.

There are seven deadly things kids should be leery of, when it comes to electronic tattooing.

1. Sexting. This means sending lewd SMSs or pics via cell phone. This is probably the dumbest thing you can do, and, according to studies, as much as 40 percent of teenagers do it. I can understand the sophomoric humor in the concept of “virtual flashing” to gross someone out or tease them, but you know that these flirtations are being saved by other giddy teens. Since most of these pics are technically kiddie porn, you don’t see kids putting up Websites with these photos. But anyone playing this game is subject to child pornography laws and can be put on the various sex offender watch lists (which have been watered down by these sorts of dumb activities). Try to get a job in 10 years and see what happens. Get used to living at home for the rest of your life or pushing around a shopping cart.

2. Facebook and Myspace. People are often far too open on Facebook. This includes posting too much personal information and revealing or embarrassing photos you think are funny. Facebook is a product you use after agreeing to its terms of service. It’s a well known fact that the guy who runs the site is not interested in your privacy. Never assume that anything you post on the Internet is going to stay private. Nothing is. This is a giant, public network. Nowadays most employers, suitors, and would-be friends do their research through sites like Facebook. Try not to look like an irresponsible dummy.

3. Twitter. Did you know that various credit reporting agencies are now using Twitter to find out information about you? Sounding like an idiot on Twitter with hour-by-hour chatter about your feelings is incredibly revealing. Every so often I check in on someone’s “tweets,” only to discover that the person I just met is a total dingbat. Folks, these remarks never go away! Do yourself a favor and up the ante on your tweets. Try: “Wow. I just finished the last volume of Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Great history!” Rather than: “Yuck. I just squished a spider. I hate spiders. Eeeeeeew.”

4. Blogging. Before Twitter and Facebook usurped much of the idle chatter, blogs were used for this purpose. Story after story emerged about how some dummy was fired from their job for blogging about their boss or co-worker in an unflattering manner. The weird part is that they were flabbergasted when it happened to them. I’ve never understood why someone wants to reveal their innermost feelings on a blog. It’s generally not that entertaining. Too often it focuses on someone’s cat. You have to wonder why people present such sad personalities online. Do they even know that they’re doing it?

5. Chat Rooms. While they’re not in the news as much as they once were, there are probably more chat rooms now than ever before. Many today are video chats on sites like Stickam. It’s impossible to condemn chat room since their value as support channels for open-source programs and feedback is so incredibly valuable. But sex chat rooms were participants titillate one another ought to be mentioned as potentially dangerous. If someone wanted to track you down, your IP address is easily captured and logged by the system itself. It’s also very easy to record a video chat. Again, since much of this activity is between teens, little is posted on the Internet, because of kiddie porn laws. But it could happen. Unless you are seriously thinking of becoming a porn star, do something else with your time! What would an employer think if they got a hold of the video? What would your mom think?

6. Flickr. I constantly use Flickr to do due diligence on people. Why not? If someone has hundreds of pictures posted of him or herself, an immediate red flag goes up. Why do you need so many pictures of yourself online? These pictures were usually taken at parties where people end up acting like the Whore of Babylon or an out-and-out drunk. Believe me, these pictures define you to others. “Did you see this picture of Joan and Alan? What is wrong with those two?!”

7. YouTube. Don’t post your personal rants. A handful of people are actually entertaining while in their room at their parents’ house complaining about friends or current events. But most people look idiotic doing the same thing. While you can indeed remove videos from YouTube, I can assure you that, if you are really making a fool of yourself, someone will capture the stream and repost it. Again, you can expect to see yourself as a dopey 15-year-old on the big screen of every birthday part from 21 to 60. Like the fat kid with the sword, you may forever be defined by that video. It’s like a tattoo.

Two 13-year-old kids sexting each other are not going to be dissuaded by casting a sexual predator as a bogeyman. And, expect in chat rooms, this is not the issue. The issue for them is long- and short-term reputation.

When I was a kid, there seemed to be more of a concern about reputation. I’m sure it hasn’t changed that much. I’m convinced that it’s only the lack of understanding as to the permanence of the Internet. It can haunt you forever. I’m still fighting about a column I wrote 26 years ago.

If you have children, make them read this column. Hopefully they’ll realize that they are treading on thin ice with some of their habits. Adults should read this column, too—though if they’re still acting like kids online, it may be too late.

Originally posted to PCMag.

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