Have You Noticed a Lot of Updates to User Agreements Lately?

lockedYou probably have received word via email or in apps lately about changes to company privacy and security agreements. Many companies are updating their privacy policy to make it "more clear and transparent." Why the sudden interest?

That was what a friend asked me recently. He surmised that it had "something to do with all the Facebook issues." That is partially correct. Having Mark Zuckerberg testify to the U.S. Senate and then to the European Parliament certainly put a spotlight on these issues.

But what really pushed companies was the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which went into effect this week. Since most websites are global, even if they don't think of themselves as being global, most big companies decided to adopt the GDPR standards for everyone, including their U.S. clients.

What I am seeing (yes, I read the fine print) is that they have added more detail about the information they collect, how they process that data, and how you can control your data. They may have updates on how they use cookies, for example, or how you can change who else gets to see your data. Some of these options have been around for awhile, but most users either didn't know about them or just didn't want to be bothered. For example, you have been able to block all cookies or third-party cookies or have them wiped when you close your browser for a long time. Did you ever change those settings?

These new changes seem to me to be a good and necessary next step. Add to the Facebook spotlight and GDPR the fact that Google's Chrome browser in its July 2018 version 68 release will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure.” Having the HTTPS  ("S" for secure) in that URL will become important. If your site appears to users as NOT SECURE, you can expect people to click away from it.

Something Scientists Rarely Talk About

science ichthys
science ichthys

Scientists talk about science. They don't often talk about religion. Even famous scientists in history - Newton, Darwin, Einstein - were careful about what they said on the subject of religion. When Albert Einstein said that "God does not play dice with the universe," that god was not necessarily the God that people speak of in religious terms.

Two things I recently encountered brought this to mind. One is Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About , a 2001 book of the annotated transcripts of six public lectures given by Donald E. Knuth at MIT. (read an excerpt) Knuth is an American computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford University probably best known as an author for the multi-volume The Art of Computer Programming. The lectures move between religion and science (particularly computer science) and Knuth gives credence to the concept of divinity. 

The second thing I stumbled on recently came in an article about Anthony Levandowski in Wired magazine. It portrays him as an unlikely prophet bridging artificial intelligence and religion. He was/is known as an engineer working on self-driving cars. But his newest "startup"i sthe launch of a new religion of artificial intelligence. It is called Way of the Future.

Way of the Future (WOTF) is about creating a peaceful transition about who is in charge of the planet as we move from people in charge to people and machines being in charge. And perhaps even a future when machines are in charge of the humans? 

That future of the singularity seems closer than we might imagine being that technology has already surpassed human abilities in some instances. Of course, beating humans at chess and Go and making faster calculations and predictions or being better at sorting items in a warehouse isn't the same thing as "running the world."

WOTF wants the future transition to be smoother and believes progress shouldn't be feared or prevented. It means that we need machines need to have "rights" too. 

Does Levandowkski really intend WOTF to be a "religion?" Is he willing to abandon the battle of the robotics tech and legal battles between Uber and Waymo for autonomous-vehicle dominance? It turns out that in papers filed with the Internal Revenue Service last year, Levandowski is listed as the “Dean” of the new religion, as also as the CEO of the nonprofit corporation formed to run it.

Those documents certainly sound like a new religion. Their listed activities will focus on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

The divine AI will target AI professionals and “laypersons who are interested in the worship of a Godhead based on AI.” The church - and they do call it a church in their filings, probably for tax reasons - has been doing workshops and educational programs in the San Francisco/Bay Area.

A September 2017 article in Wired is titles "God is a Bot and Anthony Levandowski Is His Messenger." We will see about that.   

BitTorrent Reconsidered

shirt

This past weekend I was wearing an old BitTorrent t-shirt that has printed on the back: "Give and ye Shall receive." While waiting in a store checkout line, a man behind me said, "BitTorrent? Are you a software pirate?"

To many people, BitTorrent is still synonymous with piracy. BitTorrent was and probably used for some questionable and illegal file transfers, but it’s also being used for many legitimate tasks.

A programmer, Bram Cohen, designed the protocol and released the first available version in July 2001, and it quickly became the preferred way to share large files, especially movies. In the public mind, it is blurred together with other file sharing programs like Napster, which was used to share music (mp3) files.

animationLike HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. People were sharing pirated files of all kinds before BitTorrent using anonymous peer-to-peer networks, but this new protocol made it much faster and more efficient. 

The BitTorrent protocol uses client computers to share individual piece of the file. After the initial pieces transfer from the seed, the pieces are individually transferred from client to client and that original seeder only needs to send out one copy of the file for all the clients to receive a copy.

BitTorrent Sync is a use that is comparable to Dropbox, a popular file sharing system. But unlike Dropbox, Sync doesn’t store your files in a centralized server online. It syncs them between computers you own or computers your friends own. It allows easy file sharing and you can sync an unlimited number of files as long as you have the space on your computers for them. (Dropbox offers that extra space, which many of us need.)

The most recent version of BitTorrent was released in 2013 and BitTorrent clients are available for a variety of computing platforms and operating systems including an official client released by BitTorrent, Inc.

What are some of the current legal uses? 

Some game companies use it for game updates and downloads. For example, Blizzard Entertainment uses its own BitTorrent client to download World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, and Diablo III. When you legally purchase one of these games and download it, you’re downloading a BitTorrent client that does it and the game’s launcher automatically downloads updates for you.

Facebook uses the BitTorrent protocol for propagating large files over a large number of different servers.

It also has educational users. Florida State University uses BitTorrent to distribute large scientific data sets to its researchers. Many universities that have BOINC distributed computing projects have used the BitTorrent functionality of the client-server system to reduce the bandwidth costs of distributing the client-side applications used to process the scientific data. The developing Human Connectome Project uses BitTorrent. 

The popular Internet Archive uses the protocol to make its public domain content downloadable.

In 2010, the UK government released several large data sets showing how public money was being spent that were offered via BitTorrent to save on bandwidth costs and speed the process.

NASA has also used BitTorrent to make a 2.9GB picture of the Earth available.

Like Napster, which rebranded and reinented itself after all the lawsuits into a "legitimate" music service, the official BitTorrent website has a list of “bundles” of music and videos. Artists make them freely available to hook fans, just as radio was once used to provide free music to large audiences in hopes that they’ll attend live shows and buy albums.

If we got rid of BitTorrent, another similar protocol would need to emerge. 

The GIF Story

FOXThe GIF is a file in the Graphics Interchange Format, a bitmap image format. Some people pronounce the abbreviation with a "G" sound (like gift without the t) and other use a "J" sound (like JIFfy). It was developed by US-based software writer Steve Wilhite while working at the internet service provider CompuServe in 1987. (He used the G sound.) Since then, it has gone into widespread usage due to its wide support and portability.
Originally, CompuServe wanted a lightweight color image format to replace their black and white only run-length encoding (RLE) format. The GIF had color and LZW data compression which allowed larger images to download faster. This being a time of very slow modem connections, it was common to see a big or detailed image appear line by line as you watched it load.
CompuServe released an enhanced version in 1989 (called 89a) which added support for animation delays, transparent background colors, and metadata. 
It wasn't until September 1995 when the early and very popular web browser Netscape Navigator 2.0 added animated GIF support that the animated GIF became popular. Perhaps, too popular, as early websites often featured many animated logos and decorative (and annoying) images.
In 2012, the American wing of the Oxford University Press recognized GIF as a verb as well, meaning "to create a GIF file", and they voted it their word of the year, saying that GIFs have evolved into "a tool with serious applications including research and journalism."
Today GIFs are often used to illustrate simple processes and also as mini-movie clips (although they are not true video files).

myosin
Molecules of the protein myosin dragging a ball of endorphins along an active filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex which produces feelings of happiness. via paradelle.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/what-happiness-looks-like/
 
 

The Dark Side

dark side
The dark side - it sounds so evil. Darth Vader and "The Force" used for the wrong things. Online there are a number of "dark" places: darknet, dark web, black web, and black net. And then there is the deep web, which is often associated with (and confused with) these other dark places.
The deep web is all of the information stored online that is not indexed by search engines. You probably use Google for search, but it only indexes a fraction of the Internet. Some estimates say that the web contains 500 times more content than what Google returns in search results.
The results you get when you do a search on Google and other search engines dome from the “surface web.” The results that you're not getting returned would be from the “deep web” or “invisible web”.
Are those things hidden because they are evil or illegal. Actually, much of it hidden for less dramatic reason. Some of it probably would not be relevant to most searchers, or it's old and outdated. A lot of it is in databases that Google is either not interested in indexing or barred from accessing. That is sometimes good for our privacy. You wouldn't want Google to be indexing your phone apps, the files in your Dropbox account, or your social media accounts. Other places, like subscription academic journals and court records are also deeper in the web than search engine can or want to go.
Actually, Google has a separate search engine called deeperweb.com. Give it a try. Search for yourself or some "deep" subject. It doesn't really go deep into the dark and scary Net. Reading their tutorial, you find that DeeperWeb is their metasearch engine that employs tag cloud techniques for navigating through regular Google search results and using Topic Map methods gives results relevant to a specific topic.   
A lot of social media shares occur in what some people call “dark social” which comes from the “dark web” but it might be better called "deep social." 
The dark web is different from the deep web. This darker side is is only accessible by means of special software. Many people using that software to search want to remain anonymous or untraceable. That does sound a bit evil - and it might be. Although someone might be searching anonymously because they would be embarrassed by their search being discovered, someone else could be trying to avoid law enforcement. These darknets form a small part of the larger deep web.
Dark web sites are also where narcotics, firearms, and stolen credit card numbers are bought and sold. They are sites that get shut down sometimes because someone uses them to search for hitmen or share pornography or something else illegal.
But it is not all evil. Journalists and whistleblowers use it to exchange sensitive information. Depending on how you view someone like Edward Snowden, this usage is either treasonous or heroic.
The most common way to access this darknet network made up of servers scattered around the world is through something like Tor. The name is short for The Onion Router (Darknet website URLs often end with .onion rather than .com or .org.) The Tor browser relays traffic through encrypted connections and all the traffic bounces between relays located around the world, making the user "anonymous."
Before you decide to go over to the dark side, know that although your ISP and the government might not be able to view your activity when on the Tor Network, they do know you are on the Tor Network. As this guide to the deep and dark web notes, "that alone is enough to raise eyebrows. In fact, a recent judgment by the US Supreme Court denoted that simply using Tor was sufficient probable cause for the FBI to search and seize any computer around the world."
Many Tor users add a further layer of security via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But I use VPN provided by my university in order to connect to the their network from off-campus using my own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and have secure access to the university's network resources from anywhere at anytime. Every tool can be used for good and evil.