'We didn't mean to track you' says Facebook as social network giant admits to 'bugs' in new privacy row
By Daniel Bates
28 September 2011
Facebook has admitted that it has been watching the web pages its members visit – even when they have logged out.
In its latest privacy blunder, the social networking site was forced to confirm that it has been constantly tracking its 750million users, even when they are using other sites.
The social networking giant says the huge privacy breach was simply a mistake - that software automatically downloaded to users' computers when they logged in to Facebook 'inadvertently' sent information to the company, whether or not they were logged in at the time.
Most would assume that Facebook stops monitoring them after they leave its site, but technology bloggers discovered this was not the case.
In fact, data has been regularly sent back to the social network’s servers – data that could be worth billions when creating 'targeted' advertising based on the sites users visit.
The website’s practices were exposed by Australian technology blogger Nik Cubrilovic and have provoked a furious response across the internet.
Facebook claims to have 'fixed' the issue - and 'thanked' Mr Cubrilovic for pointing it out - while simultaneously claiming that it wasn't really an issue in the first place.
Mr Cubrilovic found that when you sign up to Facebook it automatically puts files known as ‘cookies’ on your computer which monitor your browsing history.
This is still the case. But Facebook claims the cookies no longer send information while you are logged out of its site. If you are logged in to Facebook, the cookies will still send the information, and they remain on your computer unless you manually delete them.
They send Facebook your IP address - the 'unique identifier' address of your PC - and information on whether you have visited millions of websites: anything with a Facebook ‘like’ or ‘recommend’ button on it.
'We place cookies on the computer of the user,' said a Facebook spokesperson - and admitted that some Facebook cookies send back the address of users' PCs and sites they had visited, even while logged out.
'Three of these cookies inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. We did not store these for logged out users. We could not have used this information.'
However, the site spokesperson said that the 'potential issue' had now been 'fixed' so that the cookies will no longer broadcast information: 'We fixed the cookies so they won't include unique information in the future when people log out.'
'It's just the latest privacy issue to affect a company that has a long history of blunders relating to user's private information.
Monitoring all: Facebook founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg (right)
Mr Cubrilovic wrote: ‘Even if you are logged out, Facebook still knows and can track every page you visit.
‘The only solution is to delete every Facebook cookie in your browser, or to use a separate (web) browser for Facebook interactions.
‘This is not what "logout" is supposed to mean’.
The admission is the latest in a series of privacy blunders from Facebook, which has a record of only correcting such matters when they are brought to light by other people.
Earlier this year it stopped gathering browser data from users who had never even been to Facebook.com after it was exposed by a Dutch researcher.
The site was forced into a partial climbdown over changes to privacy settings which many claimed made too much public.
It also came under attack for launching a ‘stalker button’ which allowed users to track another person’s every move in a list which was constantly being updated.
New Design: Mark Zuckerberg talks about a new look for Facebook at a conference earlier this month
Arturo Bejar, one of Facebook’s directors of engineering, admitted that users continue to be tracked after they log out but said that the data was deleted right away.
He said it was to do with the way the ‘like’ feature works, which is a button users can click on to show they like something.
He said: ‘The onus is on us is to take all the data and scrub it. What really matters is what we say as a company and back it up.’
On technology blog CNET, however, users were outraged at what was going on.
One wrote: ‘Who the hell do these people think they are? ‘Trust us?’ Why? Why should we trust a company that spies on us without our knowledge and consent?’
Another added: ‘Holy wow.... they've just lept way past Google on the creepy meter’.
According to U.S. reports Facebook has recently set up its own Political Action Committee, an American term for a lobbying outfit to get its views heard on Capitol Hill.
So far this year it has already spent £352,000 on lobbying, already ahead of last year’s total of £224,000.
The website has also been forced to deny Internet rumours it will begin charging for its services and said it will ‘always be free’.
A spokesman for Facebook said that the login and log out measures were designed for security and were there to prevent fraud.
He added: ‘We to do not use this information to target adverts’.*******
The A.T.M. that can tell if you're lying: Russian bank testing ultimate security machine that recognises your voice, takes fingerprints and scans your face
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 4:13 AM on 10th June 2011
It only takes a swipe of a card and four digit number for a thief to steal your bank details and take out as much cash as they can from the nearest ATM.
But a Russian company is looking to change that for good - testing a state of the art machine that uses voice recognition and lie-detector technology to make sure it is really you at the bank.
The A.T.M. provides the highest notch security - it can scan passports, record fingerprints and even takes a three-dimensional face scan so it can tell whether it is being approached by a genuine customer or a fraudster.
It can also be used by first time customers to apply for credit cards or a bank loan without having to speak to any human employees.
The unique system was developed by the Speed Technology Center, which also does work for the Russian domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, a direct descendent of the KGB.
It was developed in part by using samples of Russian police recordings from interrogations, the centre's director, Dmitri Dyrmovsky, told the New York Times.
Screen: A close up of the state of the art machine*******
Sberbank, the Russian bank which is testing the system, intends eventually to roll them out in bank branches and malls across the country.
Victor Orlovsky, a senior vice president for technology at Sberbank, said it was attempting to up A.T.M. security in response to unpaid loans and the worldwide financial crisis.
The machine's voice technology not only recognises a customer's voice, but also picks up on hints of nerves or emotional distress, he said.
To comply with privacy laws that prevent companies keeping on file a database of customers' voices, Sberbank plans to store the voice prints on bank card chips.
Mr Orlovsky added: 'We are not violating a client’s privacy. We are not climbing into the client’s brain. We aren’t invading their personal lives. We are just trying to find out if they are telling the truth. I don’t see any reason to be alarmed.'
The system is the first of its kind, according to experts.
Industry analyst Daniel Wiegand told the Times: 'We don’t know of any major U.S. financial institutions doing things along those lines, such as trying to gauge whether somebody is lying.'*******
Facebook Breakup Notifier App Helps You Stalk Your Crush
Application Sends E-Mails When Friends' Relationship Status Changes
By Ki Mae Heussner
Feb. 22, 2011
As if Facebook stalking a potential flame wasn't already easy enough, now a new application can send your romantic interest's relationship status updates straight to your inbox.
The Breakup Notifier app lets users select the friends whose love lives they want to monitor and, whenever they change their relationship status on Facebook, it sends an e-mail.
"You like someone. They're in a relationship. Be the first to know when they're out of it," says the tagline on the app's website.
Dan Loewenherz, 24, a developer based in Beverly Hills, Calif., said it took him just about four hours to build the application. He launched the app and its website Saturday, and in the past 36 hours the site has been visited more than 700,000 times and the app has been downloaded by 40,000 people, he said.
"I was blown away," he said. "This weekend, I just thought it would be a fun thing to do. It was going to be a little joke, I was going to send it to some friends… but I think people really like this idea. I just didn't intend it to be this big."
The app is currently free, but Loewenherz said that given the tool's popularity, he might charge users for the service. A possible plan would be to let people monitor one or two friends for free and then pay one or two Facebook credits to monitor additional friends.
Mother-In-Law Inspires App
In a discussion thread on a popular tech forum, Loewenherz said he developed the app after a conversation between his fiancee and her mother.
The pair was talking about setting up his fiancee's sister with a guy who was already attached, when Loewenherz's future mother-in-law joked that it would nice to know when he was single again.
"I blurted out that I could make something that could do that in a couple of hours. By then, I knew I had to do it," he wrote.
Originally, the app scanned Facebook relationship statuses every 24 hours and sent e-mails about the changes. Loewenherz has since updated it to scan for status changes every 10 minutes.
Facebook Adds 'Civil Unions' to Relationship Status Options
Loewenherz recently quit his job to launch a start-up called Crate, a file-sharing application.
As for the inspiration for the stalking tool -- his mother-in-law to be -- Loewenherz said she's enjoying his latest Web creation.
"She thinks it's hilarious. She's got a ball out of it. She's extremely amused," he said.
In other relationship-related Facebook news, the site last week announced that it was adding civil unions and domestic partnerships to the relationship status options on user profiles.
Previously, users could describe themselves as single, married, in an open relationship or "it's complicated."
Facebook: The 'Evil Interface?'
Is your personal information suddenly flapping in the breeze?
By Helen A.S. Popkin
Pop quiz! What do you call "the act of creating deliberately confusing jargon and user-interfaces which trick your users into sharing more info about themselves than they really want to?"
Give up? Don’t feel dumb. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights advocacy organization, had a tough time wrapping its collective brain around the concept as it built its tutorial to help users through Facebook’s most recent privacy changes. So EFF turned to Facebook and Twitter users for help.
Suggestions for a term to easily describe mishegas such as “Facebook's bizarre new ‘opt-out’ procedures” rolled in. These included "bait-and-click," "bait-and-phish," "dot-confidence games," "confuser-interface-design,” and though EFF didn’t mention the social network specifically, more than a few that made creative use of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s name, such as this one called out on EFF’s site from @heisenthought on Twitter:
“How about ‘zuck’? As in: ‘That user-interface totally zuckered me into sharing 50 wedding photos. That kinda zucks’"
Apparently people feel pretty strongly about Facebook’s latest privacy rollback, a new move to “personalize your (Web) experience using your public Facebook information,” even if you don’t fully understand what it means, let alone how to “opt out” of generously offering your personal info with the social network’s partner sites.
Take, for example, EFF’s favorite suggestion from @volt4ire, “Evil Interfaces.”
It’s a reference from a talk given by West Point Professor Greg Conti at the 2008 Hackers on Planet Earth conference, EFF notes. But if you want to get into Sci Fi movie references, consider this. As little as two years ago, the idea of Facebook usurping Google as the projected “Skynet” of our increasingly tech-dependent lives would’ve been laughable — or at least laughably lame in the running joke that sooner rather than later, our lives will be run by a “Terminator”-style artificial omnipresence.
But the most recent (and most egregious) privacy rollbacks make it unsettlingly obvious that the world’s largest social network is well placed to own the Internet, and all of your personal information, too. Let’s review. Here’s the bare-bones bullet list of what’s different:
If you visit Facebook’s partner sites Yelp, Pandora or Microsoft Docs, your information is shared unless you opt out on each, individual Web site. If your friends haven’t adequately battened down their own privacy stuff, then by proxy, you’ve shared their information, too.
Your interests are now linked to pages everyone can see. For example, if you have “pornography” as one of your interests, and you don’t actively opt out, you are now linked to the “Pornography” interest page on Facebook, viewable by your boss, Grandma, the world.
How exactly do you batten down your info, at least as much info as you can? Good question. More than a few publications have offered instructions on how to navigate opting out, but as EFF noted when it was researching and writing its own guide, more than a couple weren’t complete.
“These aren’t casual users not paying attention,” points out EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. “These are people who are trying to make instructions, and they still can’t file a complete ‘opt-out’ guide.”
So confusing are the directions, that Opsahl’s observation is critical of Facebook rather than those trying to guide others through the process. The incomplete guides he’s seen miss the final step in the process.
You can’t just opt-out of having your information shared on a partner site. You must go to each individual site and opt out there, too. Currently, there are three partner sites, but every time Facebook adds another partner, you’ll have to go to that partner’s site and opt out again.
“Our highest priority is to keep and build the trust of the more than 400 million people who use our service every month,” read a recent post on the Facebook blog titled “Answers to Your Questions on Personalized Web Tools.” “To do so, we've developed powerful tools to give people control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom.”
The confusing and lengthy process of opting out from using these powerful tools is either clever by design or simply negligent. “It’s hard to tell, but it’s bad,” says Opsahl. “Look at the comparison. Opting out requires several pages that aren’t linked together. You have to confirm, hit OK, and repeat the process. Conversely, it takes just one page to opt back in to an application, check one box, and you’re back. No confirmations necessary.
There are those who take a “toothpaste-out-of-the-tube” philosophy to Internet privacy, as in “Hey, it’s all out there anyway. Privacy is dead. Blah blah blah.”
The seemingly simple answer is just to quit Facebook altogether. Obviously, that’s just not going to happen. We are social beings, and we’re hooked. “People continue to be on Facebook because their friends are there,” says Opsahl. “It’s not love of Facebook or its privacy practice that keeps people on the site. It’s loyalty to their friends.”
EFF offers a thorough tutorial on its Web site, as well as the video embedded in this story. Do yourself a favor. Stop playing FarmVille for two seconds and check it out. According to Ophsal, “If you follow all the EFF instructions, and Facebook is being honest, you will have successfully opted out.”*******
Schools use GPS to track students who skip
By Rosa Golijan
18 Feb 2011
Skipping class, though frowned upon, is practically a rite of passage for young teens, but thanks to an elaborate system involving GPS being used by some school districts, it is practically being eliminated completely.
The Orange County Register reports that the Anaheim Union High School District in California is currently participating in a pilot program which involves using a combination of Global Positioning System technology, automated telephone reminders, and one-on-one coaching to cut down on truancy. It's similar to programs being used in Baltimore and San Antonio.
Basically any students in the seventh- or eighth-grade who have four or more unexcused absences over the course of a school year can be put into the Anaheim program. They will be assigned a GPS tracking device about the size of a cell phone, and they'll need to use it regularly, the newspaper said:
Each morning on schooldays, [students will] get an automated phone call reminding them that they need to get to school on time.
Then, five times a day, they are required to enter a code that tracks their locations – as they leave for school, when they arrive at school, at lunchtime, when they leave school and at 8 p.m.
The students are also assigned an adult coach who calls them at least three times a week to see how they are doing and help them find effective ways to make sure they get to class on time.
It's worth noting that while this anti-truancy program is very elaborate and almost invasive, it is also entirely optional. Students and their parents are offered the chance to voluntarily participate in the "monitoring as a way to avoid continuation school or prosecution with a potential stay in juvenile hall."
On top of that, parents would also be avoiding the $2,000 fine that can come from turning a blind eye to truancy if a school district chooses to pursue the issue.
Neither students nor parents have to fret about any costs when it comes to participating in the program as the expenses — and boy, are there expenses! — are covered by a state grant for a good reason:
The GPS devices cost $300-$400 each. Overall, the six-week program costs about $8 per day for each student, or $18,000. ... Because schools lose about $35 per day for each absent student, the program can pay for itself and more if students return to class consistently.
Just how good is this program though? We weren't joking when we remarked that school districts that use the monitoring system are almost eliminating truancy entirely:
Where the GPS technology has been implemented, average attendance among the chronically truant jumped from 77 percent up to 95 percent during the six-week program.
Of course, attendance rates dip a bit as soon as students stop participating in the monitoring program. But according to Miller Sylvan, regional director for AIM Truancy Solutions, the company that makes the truancy system, at least many of the kids "learn new habits that help them."*******
'Death by GPS': Could it happen to you?
By Wilson Rothman
04 Feb 2011
You know those stories we secretly like to chuckle over, about people driving into yards or fountains or even buildings because their GPS told them to? Well, the stories are getting less and less funny; some even result in fatalities.
In August, 2009, in Death Valley National Park in California, an 11-year-old boy died of dehydration and exposure after the GPS navigator his mother was following stranded them on a rough country road.
In a new follow-up report in the Sacramento Bee, reporter Tom Knudson interviewed rangers and wilderness guides who remembered the incident, and who frequently deal with stranded tourists.
"People are renting vehicles with GPS and they have no idea how it works and they are willing to trust the GPS to lead them into the middle of nowhere," Death Valley wilderness coordinator Charlie Callagan told the Bee. "It's what I'm beginning to call death by GPS," said Callagan.
But how widespread is this problem really? And what can drivers do to prevent being guided down the wrong path?
The boy who died in Death Valley was one of 12 known fatalities over a 15-year period at the national park, most presumably not having GPS to blame. And while there are plenty of laughable anecdotes — a recent story tells of an elderly British couple who, when touring Germany, plowed into the side of a village church because of flawed instructions from their GPS — the fatalities are few and far between. But that doesn't mean it's not a problem, and something every user needs to be aware of, especially now that more and more navigation is done using smart phones.
It's easy to dismiss these people who seem to follow their dashboard helpers with mindless devotion; many of us have had a mis-turn or two thanks to satellite navigation.
Once, in the Willamette Valley wine country, a friend and I turned onto a dirt road and kept driving until we saw a sign telling us to turn back. "Sorry your GPS brought you here," it read, followed by instructions that had no doubt been followed by many a wandering oenophile. But as easy as it was to get lost following the GPS, we weren't in a life-threatening environment. Even if we got stuck, the worst thing that could happen would have been having to knock on a farmhouse door. Getting lost is sometimes even part of the fun.
But when extreme temperatures, hazardous weather or treacherous roads are part of the trip, you need to understand the what your GPS device can — and can't — do. Portable navigators have different weaknesses than phone apps, and even among the phone apps, there are significant differences.
Mind your GPS
in the past several years, usually come with a complete map of the U.S. or North America, premium units can receive traffic data and alerts, or even connect to the Internet for up-to-date information, but most of them are stuck with only the maps stored inside. This means they can't tell you if a road was closed since you bought the device, and they can't tell you of any hazard advisories put out by the local authorities.
Navigation apps on smart phones are all the rage now, and with good reason: They do everything that the portable navigators have been known to do, and more, and they cost a lot less. But not all apps are crafted the same. Some, such as the apps from TomTom and Navigon, come with a complete map download, so that the phone has everything on board. Other apps, such as the iPhone's budget best-seller MotionX GPS-Drive and Garmin's new StreetPilot, download maps needed for each particular route, using the phone's cellular connection.
The benefits to these approaches vary. If your app includes all the maps, it will be able to re-route you and function fully without any cell service. If your app downloads maps on the go, you may be stuck. "If you don't have cell phone signal and you leave the route, you can't navigate," says Johan-Till Broer, a spokesman for Navigon.
The downside to onboard maps is that they might get stale. Navigon recently updated maps for all owners of the app, but they can't do it too often because it costs them money. Apps that download maps as needed tend to have fresher maps.
Broer warns against free apps, because he says their map data may not be sourced from a reputable map data provider. Sticking with brand names you know — Garmin, TomTom, Navigon — or with apps that get high user ratings in the iPhone and Android app stores should help steer you from a bad experience.
No matter what kind of GPS you have, relying solely on it is a bad bet.
"The map's never going to be perfect, unless there's a way of tracking everything in real time," says Broer. "Roads and streets change on a daily basis."
According to the Sacramento Bee, experts recommend keeping traditional navigational tools handy such as a paper map and compass, not to mention plenty of water. "And for those venturing off-road," says the report, "[experts] strongly advise carrying personal locator beacons or similar devices that send a signal via satellite, advising others of your location and notifying authorities if you need help." (There are more good tips for travelers in the Bee's piece; I encourage you to read it.)
Most of all, though, it's important to use common sense.
"There was a report not long ago about a guy who drove into a lake," said Navigon's Broer. "You have to look out the window and see that there's a lake. GPS is an assistant that can help you while you're driving, but you shouldn't blindly follow the machine."*******
Security experts reckon the latest technology can detect hostile intentions before something bad happens. Unless it is perfect, though, that may be bad in itself
If looks could kill
Oct 23rd 2008
MONITORING surveillance cameras is tedious work. Even if you are concentrating, identifying suspicious behaviour is hard. Suppose a nondescript man descends to a subway platform several times over the course of a few days without getting on a train. Is that suspicious? Possibly. Is the average security guard going to notice? Probably not. A good example, then—if a fictional one—of why many people would like to develop intelligent computerised surveillance systems.
The perceived need for such systems is stimulating the development of devices that can both recognise people and objects and also detect suspicious behaviour. Much of this technology remains, for the moment, in laboratories. But Charles Cohen, the boss of Cybernet Systems, a firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is working for America’s Army Research Laboratory, says behaviour-recognition systems are getting good, and are already deployed at some security checkpoints.
Human gaits, for example, can provide a lot of information about people’s intentions. At the American Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a team of gait analysts and psychologists led by Frank Morelli study video, much of it conveniently posted on the internet by insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. They use special object-recognition software to lock onto particular features of a video recording (a person’s knees or elbow joints, for example) and follow them around. Correlating those movements with consequences, such as the throwing of a bomb, allows them to develop computer models that link posture and consequence reasonably reliably. The system can, for example, pick out a person in a crowd who is carrying a concealed package with the weight of a large explosives belt. According to Mr Morelli, the army plans to deploy the system at military checkpoints, on vehicles and at embassy perimeters.
Some intelligent surveillance systems are able to go beyond even this. Instead of merely learning what a threat looks like, they can learn the context in which behaviour is probably threatening. That people linger in places such as bus stops, for example, is normal. Loitering in a stairwell, however, is a rarer occurrence that may warrant examination by human security staff (so impatient lovers beware). James Davis, a video-security expert at Ohio State University in Columbus, says such systems are already in use. Dr Davis is developing one for America’s Air Force Research Laboratory. It uses a network of cameras to track people identified as suspicious—for example, pedestrians who have left a package on the ground—as they walk through town.
As object- and motion-recognition technology improves, researchers are starting to focus on facial expressions and what they can reveal. The Human Factors Division of America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for example, is running what it calls Project Hostile Intent. This boasts a system that scrutinises fleeting “micro-expressions”, easily missed by human eyes. Many flash for less than a tenth of a second and involve just a small portion of the face.
Terrorists are often trained to conceal emotions; micro-expressions, however, are largely involuntary. Even better, from the researchers’ point of view, conscious attempts to suppress facial expressions actually accentuate micro-expressions. Sharla Rausch, the director of the Human Factors Division, refers to this somewhat disturbingly as “micro-facial leakage”.
There are about 40 micro-expressions. The DHS’s officials refuse to describe them in detail, which is a bit daft, as they have been studied for years by civilian researchers. But Paul Ekman, who was one of those researchers (he retired from the University of California, San Francisco, in 2004) and who now advises the DHS and other intelligence and law-enforcement agencies in the United States and elsewhere, points out that signals which seem to reveal hostile intent change with context. If many travellers in an airport-screening line are running late, telltales of anguish—raised cheeks and eyebrows, lowered lips and gaze—cause less concern.
Supporters of this sort of technology argue that it avoids controversial racial profiling: only behaviour is studied. This is a sticky issue, however, because cultures—and races—express themselves differently. Judee Burgoon, an expert on automated behaviour-recognition at the University of Arizona, Tucson, who conducts research for America’s Department of Defence, says systems should be improved with cultural input. For example, passengers from repressive countries, who may already be under suspicion because of their origins, typically display extra anxiety (often revealed by rigid body movements) when near security officials. That could result in a lot of false positives and consequent ill-will. Dr Burgoon is upgrading her software, called Agent 99, by fine-tuning the interpretations of body movements of people from about 15 cultures.
Another programme run by the Human Factors Division, Future Attributable Screening Technology, or FAST, is being developed as a complement to Project Hostile Intent. An array of sensors, at a distance of a couple of metres, measures skin temperature, blood-flow patterns, perspiration, and heart and breathing rates. In a series of tests, including a demonstration last month with 140 role-playing volunteers, the system detected about 80% of those who had been asked to try to deceive it by being hostile or trying to smuggle a weapon through it.
A number of “innocents”, though, were snagged too. The trial’s organisers are unwilling to go into detail, and are now playing down the significance of the testing statistics. But FAST began just 16 months ago. Bob Burns, the project’s leader, says its accuracy will improve next year thanks to extra sensors that can detect eye movements and body odours, both of which can provide further clues to emotional states.
Until proved innocent
That alarms some civil-libertarians. FAST, they say, amounts to a forced medical examination, and hostile-intent systems in general smack of the “pre-crime” technology featured in Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Minority Report” and the film based on it. An exaggeration, perhaps. But the result of using these devices, according to Barry Steinhardt, the head of technology and liberty at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, DC, will inevitably be that too many innocents are entangled in intrusive questioning or worse with “voodoo science” security measures.
To the historically minded it smacks of polygraphs, the so-called lie-detectors that rely on measuring physiological correlates of stress. Those have had a patchy and controversial history, fingering nervous innocents while acquitting practised liars. Supporters of hostile-intent systems argue that the computers will not be taking over completely, and human security agents will always remain the final arbiters. Try telling that, though, to an innocent traveller who was in too much of a hurry—or even a couple smooching in a stairwell.
Are they pens with cameras?
You've just seen something that will replace your PC in the near future.
Here is how it works:
scientists have made great developments with blue tooth technology ...
This is the forthcoming computers you can carry within your pockets.
Can anyone say, 'Good-bye laptops!
Intrusive Brain Reading Surveillance Technology: Hacking the Mind
by Carole Smith
Global Research, December 13, 2007
Dissent Magazine, Australia, Summer 2007/2008
“Carole Smith describes claims that neuroscientists are developing brain scans that can read people’s intentions in the absence of serious discussions about the ethical issues this raises, despite the fact that the research has been backed by government in the UK and US.”
“We need a program of psychosurgery for political control of our society. The purpose is physical control of the mind. Everyone who deviates from the given norm can be surgically mutilated.
The individual may think that the most important reality is his own existence, but this is only his personal point of view. This lacks historical perspective. Man does not have the right to develop his own mind. This kind of liberal orientation has great appeal. We must electronically control the brain. Someday armies and generals will be controlled by electric stimulation of the brain.
Dr José Delgado.Director of Neuropsychiatry, Yale University Medical School Congressional Record, No. 26, Vol. 118 February 24, 1974.
The Guardian newspaper, that defender of truth in the United Kingdom, published an article by the Science Correspondent, Ian Sample, on 9 February 2007 entitled:
‘The Brain Scan that can read people’s intentions’, with the sub-heading: ‘Call for ethical debate over possible use of new technology in interrogation”.
“Using the scanner, we could look around the brain for this information and read out something that from the outside there's no way you could possibly tell is in there. It's like shining a torch around, looking for writing on a wall”, the scientists were reported as saying.
At the same time, London’s Science Museum was holding an exhibition entitled ‘Neurobotics: The Future of Thinking’. This venue had been chosen for the launch in October 2006 of the news that human thoughts could be read using a scanner. Dr Geraint Rees’ smiling face could be seen in a photograph at the Neurobotics website, under the heading “The Mind Reader”. Dr Rees is one of the scientists who have apparently cracked the problem which has preoccupied philosophers and scientists since before Plato: they had made entry into the conscious mind. Such a reversal of human historical evolution, announced in such a pedestrian fashion, makes one wonder what factors have been in play, and what omissions made, in getting together this show, at once banal and extraordinary. The announcement arrives as if out of a vacuum. The neuroscientist - modern-style hunter-gatherer of information and darling of the “Need to Know” policies of modern government - does little to explain how he achieved this goal of entering the conscious mind, nor does he put his work into any historical context. Instead, we are asked in the Science Museum’s programme notes:
How would you feel if someone could read your innermost thoughts? Geraint Rees of UCL says he can. By using brain-imaging technology he's beginning to decode thought and explore the difference between the conscious and unconscious mind. But how far will it go? And shouldn’t your thoughts remain your personal business?
If Dr Rees has decoded the mind sufficiently for such an announcement to be made in an exhibition devoted to it, presumably somewhere is the mind which has been, and is continuing to be, decoded. He is not merely continuing his experiments using functional magnetic resolution scanning (fMRI) in the way neuroscientists have been observing their subjects under scanning devices for years, asking them to explain what they feel or think while the scientists watch to see which area lights up, and what the cerebral flow in the brain indicates for various brain areas. Dr Rees is decoding the mind in terms of conscious and unconscious processes. For that, one must have accessed consciousness itself. Whose consciousness? Where is the owner of that consciousness – and unconsciousness? How did he/she feel? Why not ask them to tell us how it feels, instead of asking us.
The Neurobotics Exhibition was clearly set up to make these exciting new discoveries an occasion for family fun, and there were lots of games for visitors to play. One gets the distinct impression that we are being softened up for the introduction of radical new technology which will, perhaps, make the mind a communal pool rather than an individual possession. Information technology seeks to connect us all to each other in as many ways as possible, but also, presumably, to those vast data banks which allow government control not only to access all information about our lives, but now also to our thoughts, even to our unconscious processing. Does anyone care?
One of the most popular exhibits was the ‘Mindball’ game, which required two players to go literally head-to-head in a battle for brainpower, and used ‘brainpower’ alone. Strapped up with headbands which pick up brain waves, the game uses neurofeedback, but the person who is calm and relaxed wins the game. One received the impression that this calmness was the spirit that the organisers wished to reinforce, to deflect any undue public panic that might arise from the news that private thoughts could now be read with a scanner. The ingress into the mind as a private place was primarily an event to be enjoyed with the family on an afternoon out:
Imagine being able to control a computer with only the power of your mind. Or read people’s thoughts and know if they’re lying. And what if a magnetic shock to the brain could make you more creative…but should we be able to engineer our minds?
Think your thoughts are private? Ever told a lie and been caught red-handed? Using brain-scanning technology, scientists are beginning to probe our minds and tell if we’re lying. Other scientists are decoding our desires and exploring the difference between our conscious and unconscious mind. But can you really trust the technology?
Other searching questions are raised in the program notes, and more games:
Find out if you’ve got what it takes to be a modern-day spy in this new interactive family exhibition. After being recruited as a trainee spy, explore the skills and abilities required by real agents and use some of the latest technologies that help spies gather and analyse information. Later go on and discover what it’s like to be spied upon. Uncover a secret store of prototype gadgets that give you a glimpse into the future of spy technologies and finally use everything you’ve learnt to escape before qualifying as a fully-fledged agent!
There were also demonstrations of grateful paraplegics and quadriplegics showing how the gods of science have so unselfishly liberated them from their prisons: this was the serious Nobel Prize side of the show. But there was no-one representing Her Majesty’s government to demonstrate how these very same devices can be used quite freely, and with relative ease, in our wireless age, to conduct experiments on free-ranging civilians tracked anywhere in the world, and using an infinitely extendable form of electrode which doesn’t require visible contact with the scalp at all. Electrodes, like electricity, can also take an invisible form – an electrode is a terminal of an electric source through which electrical energy or current may flow in or out. The brain itself is an electrical circuit. Every brain has its own unique resonating frequency. The brain is an infinitely more sensitive receiver and transmitter than the computer, and even in the wireless age, the comprehension of how wireless networks operate appears not to extend to the workings of the brain. The monotonous demonstration of scalps with electrodes attached to them, in order to demonstrate the contained conduction of electrical charges, is a scientific fatuity, in so far as it is intended to demonstrate comprehensively the capability of conveying charges to the brain, or for that matter, to any nerve in the body, as a form of invisible torture.
As Neurobotics claims: ‘Your brain is amazing’, but the power and control over brains and nervous systems achieved by targeting brain frequencies with radiowaves must have been secretly amazing government scientists for many years. The problem that now arises, at the point of readiness when so much has been achieved, is how to put the technology into action in such a way, as it will be acceptable in the public domain. This requires getting it through wider government and legal bodies, and for that, it must be seen to spring from the unbiased scientific investigations into the workings of the brain, in the best tradition of the leading universities. It is given over to Dr Rees and his colleague, Professor Haynes, endowed with the disclosure for weightier Guardian readers, to carry the torch for the government. Those involved may also have noted the need to show the neuroscientist in a more responsible light, following US neuroengineer for government sponsored Lockheed Martin, John Norseen’s, ingenuous comment, in 2000, about his belief about the consequences of his work in fMRI:
‘If this research pans out’, said Norseen, ‘you can begin to manipulate what someone is thinking even before they know it.’ And added: “The ethics don’t concern me, but they should concern someone else.”
While the neuroscientists report their discovery (without even so much as the specific frequency of the light employed by this scanner/torch), issuing ethical warnings while incongruously continuing with their mind-blowing work, the government which sponsors them, remains absolutely mute. The present probing of people’s intentions, minds, background thoughts, hopes and emotions is being expanded into the more complex and subtle aspects of thinking and feeling. We have, however, next to no technical information about their methods. The description of ‘shining a torch around the brain’ is as absurd a report as one could read of a scientific endeavour, especially one that carries such enormous implications for the future of mankind. What is this announcement, with its technical obfuscation, preparing us for?
Writing in Wired contributing editor Steve Silberman points out that the lie-detection capability of fMRI is ‘poised to transform the security system, the judicial system, and our fundamental notions of privacy’. He quotes Cephos founder, Steven Laken, whose company plans to market the new technology for lie detection. Laken cites detainees held without charge at Guantanamo Bay as a potential example. ‘If these detainees have information we haven’t been able to extract that could prevent another 9/11, I think most Americans would agree that we should be doing whatever it takes to extract it’. Silberman also quotes Paul Root Wolpe, a senior fellow at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, who describes the accelerated advances in fMRI as ‘ a textbook example of how something can be pushed forward by the convergence of basic science, the government directing research through funding, and special interests who desire a particular technology’. Are we to believe that with the implied capability to scan jurors’ brains, the judiciary, the accused and the defendant alike, influencing one at the expense of the other, that the legal implications alone of mind-accessing scanners on university campuses, would not rouse the Minister for Justice from his bench to say a few words about these potential mind weapons?
So what of the ethical debate called for by the busy scientists and the Guardian’s science reporter? Can this technology- more powerful in subverting thought itself than anything in prior history – really be confined to deciding whether the ubiquitously invoked terrorist has had the serious intention of blowing up the train, or whether it was perhaps a foolish prank to make a bomb out of chapatti flour? We can assume that the government would certainly not give the go-ahead to the Science Museum Exhibition, linked to Imperial College, a major government-sponsored institution in laser-physics, if it was detrimental to surveillance programs. It is salutary to bear in mind that government intelligence research is at least ten years ahead of any public disclosure. It is implicit from history that whatever affords the undetectable entry by the gatekeepers of society into the brain and mind, will not only be sanctioned, but funded and employed by the State, more specifically by trained operatives in the security forces, given powers over defenceless citizens, and unaccountable to them.
The actual technology which is now said to be honing the technique ‘to distinguish between passing thoughts and genuine intentions’ is described by Professor John-Dylan Haynes in the Guardian in the most disarmingly untechnical language which must surely not have been intended to enlighten.
The Guardian piece ran as follows:
A team of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person’s brain and read their intentions before they act.
The research breaks controversial new ground in scientists’ ability to probe people’s minds and eavesdrop on their thoughts, and raises serious ethical issues over how brain-reading technology may be used in the future.
‘Using the scanner, we could look around the brain for this information and read out something that from the outside there's no way you could possibly tell is in there. It's like shining a torch around, looking for writing on a wall,’ said John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, who led the study with colleagues at University College London and Oxford University.
We know therefore that they are using light, but fMRI has been used for many years to attempt the unravelling of neuronal activity, and while there have been many efforts to record conscious and unconscious processes, with particular emphasis on the visual cortex, there has been no progress into consciousness itself. We can be sure that we are not being told the real story.
Just as rats and chimpanzees have been used to demonstrate findings from remote experiments on humans, electrode implants used on cockroaches to remotely control them, lasers used to steer fruit-flies, and worms engineered so that their nerves and muscles can be controlled with pinpricks of light, the information and techniques that have been ruthlessly forged using opportunistic onslaughts on defenceless humans as guinea pigs - used for myriad purposes from creating 3D haptic gloves in computer games to creating artificial intelligence to send visual processing into outer space - require appropriate replication for peer group approval and to meet ethical demands for scientific and public probity.
The use of light to peer into the brain is almost certainly that of terahertz, which occurs in the wavelengths which lie between 30mm and 1mm of the electromagnetic spectrum. Terahertz has the ability to penetrate deep into organic materials, without (it is said) the damage associated with ionising radiation such as x-rays. It can distinguish between materials with varying water content – for example fat versus lean meat. These properties lend themselves to applications in process and quality control as well as biomedical imaging. Terahertz can penetrate bricks, and also human skulls. Other applications can be learnt from the major developer of terahertz in the UK, Teraview, which is in Cambridge, and partially owned by Toshiba.
Efforts to alert human rights’ groups about the loss of the mind as a place to call your own, have met with little discernible reaction, in spite of reports about over decades of the dangers of remote manipulation using technology to access the mind, Dr Nick Begich’s book, Controlling the human mind, being an important recent contribution. A different approach did in fact, elicit a response. When informed of the use of terahertz at Heathrow and Luton airports in the UK to scan passengers, the news that passengers would be revealed naked by a machine which looked directly through their clothes produced a small, but highly indignant, article in the spring 2007 edition of the leading human rights organisation, Liberty. If the reading of the mind met with no protest, seeing through one’s clothes certainly did. It seems humans’ assumption of the mind as a private place has been so secured by evolution that it will take a sustained battle to convince the public that, through events of which we are not yet fully informed, such former innocence has been lost.
Trained light, targeted atomic spectroscopy, the use of powerful magnets to absorb moisture from human tissues, the transfer of radiative energy – these have replaced the microwave harassment which was used to transmit auditory messages directly into the hearing. With the discovery of light to disentangle thousands of neurons and encode signals from the complex circuitry of the brain, present programs will not even present the symptoms which simulated schizoid states. Medically, even if terahertz does not ionise, we do not yet know how the sustained application of intense light will affect the delicate workings of the brain and how cells might be damaged, dehydrated, stretched, obliterated.
This year, 2007, has also brought the news that terahertz lasers small enough to incorporate into portable devices had been developed.
Sandia National Laboratories in the US in collaboration with MIT have produced a transmitter-receiver (transceiver) that enables a number of applications. In addition to scanning for explosives, we may also assume their integration into hand-held communication systems. ‘These semiconductor devices have output powers which previously could only be obtained by molecular gas lasers occupying cubic meters and weighing more than 100kg, or free electron lasers weighing tons and occupying buildings.’ As far back as 1996 the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board predicted that the development of electromagnetic energy sources would ‘open the door for the development of some novel capabilities that can be used in armed conflict, in terrorist/hostage situations, and in training’ and ‘new weapons that offer the opportunity of control of an adversary … can be developed around this concept’.
The surveillance technology of today is the surveillance of the human mind and, through access to the brain and nervous system, the control of behaviour and the body’s functions. The messaging of auditory hallucinations has given way to silent techniques of influencing and implanting thoughts. The development of the terahertz technologies has illuminated the workings of the brain, facilitated the capture of emitted photons which are derived from the visual cortex which processes picture formation in the brain, and enabled the microelectronic receiver which has, in turn, been developed by growing unique semi-conductor crystals. In this way, the technology is now in place for the detection and reading of spectral ‘signatures’ of gases. All humans emit gases. Humans, like explosives, emit their own spectral signature in the form of a gas. With the reading of the brain’s electrical frequency, and of the spectral gas signature, the systems have been established for the control of populations – and with the necessary technology integrated into a cell-phone.
‘We are very optimistic about working in the terahertz electromagnetic spectrum,’ says the principal investigator of the Terahertz Microelectronics Transceiver at Sandia: ‘This is an unexplored area, and a lot of science can come out of it. We are just beginning to scratch the surface of what THz can do to improve national security’.*******
Are they pens with cameras?
You've just seen something that will replace your PC in the near future.
Here is how it works:
scientists have made great developments with blue tooth technology ...
This is the forthcoming computers you can carry within your pockets.
Can anyone say, 'Good-bye laptops!
December 28, 2006
by Treena Hein, CBC News
GPS technology isn't just for geo-caching treasure hunters and tracking wildlife anymore.
In fact, some of the things the Global Positioning System is being used for in Canada may surprise you — and make you nervous.
Gary Miles teaches future private investigators how to use GPS to track people.
Miles is a retired private investigator (PI), former Algonquin College Instructor and co-founder of a new PI training centre in Ottawa called Hawk Investigative Institute. He notes how quickly the technology has changed in a short time.
"We used to sit and do surveillance, but it's just not done anymore," he said.
Instead, Miles described how nowadays investigators place GPS receivers into "purses, knapsacks, gym bags, golf bags, and of course, into vehicles," in order to track the person in question.
He says many cases involve one spouse wanting to know what the other one is doing when they aren't together.
Miles describes one situation in which a woman who had sought a PI's services was given a GPS beacon to place in her husband's golf bag.
The investigator was able to later demonstrate with the GPS tracking log that the golf bag had never left her husband's parked vehicle during the time he had said he was golfing.
How it works
GPS is a network of more than two dozen satellites that orbit the earth and transmit precisely timed signals down to GPS receivers.
Each receiver contains a tiny computer that uses the signals of three or four satellites to determine its location (latitude, longitude and altitude) using a process similar to triangulation.
Receivers can be programmed to calculate the speed and direction of travel as well. The data can be stored in the receiver for download onto a computer later.
For situations where remote access to the information is needed, some receivers can transmit it in real-time using cellular networks or satellite internet connections.
Devices cheaper, smaller
Miles said both the price and the size of GPS units have decreased.
The size of a remote receiver is now comparable to a small cellphone with an antenna less than 7.5 centimetres long, and the cost is as little as $350. The battery in these gadgets typically lasts about a month, and there is no limit to the range because satellites send out signals blanketing the globe.
However, Miles notes the signal can be sometimes be blocked by things like overpasses or if the receiver is carried into a building.
Who else is using GPS?
Beyond snooping by spouses, GPS is being used in a lot of other ways. Parents can now place a beacon inside a vehicle and easily tell if their teenagers are where they say they are when they are out for the night.
And over the past three years, more than 120 visually impaired Canadians have been monitoring their location and getting around more easily with 'talking" GPS units. Law enforcement agencies in particular have been finding GPS units very handy.
In May 2006, Nova Scotia became the first province to use satellite-tracking technology to follow offenders under house arrest. On any given day in the province, convicts under house arrest total about 425.
Brian MacDougall, the electronic supervision co-ordinator for Nova Scotia's Department of Justice, said: "It's really holding offenders accountable."
MacDougall added that the number of offenders tracked since May has fluctuated, but will reach 25 by the end of 2006.
In addition to ensuring subjects stay under house arrest, the system can be set up with timed "inclusion zones" that track offenders movements to ensure they attend mandatory appointments related to addictions or employment.
Officials can also immediately detect "exclusion zone" violations, which occur if an offender should enter a specifically prohibited area.
Nabbing thieves with 'bait cars'
GPS has been used in several major Canadian cities to catch thieves who have stolen rented vehicles or "bait cars" deliberately placed in targeted areas. In 2007, Nova Scotia will join provinces such as Manitoba and British Columbia in trying out bait cars.
Det. Sgt. Kevin Kavitch of the Winnipeg Police Service would not provide specifics about how many thieves the bait car program has nabbed, but said that for a bait car program to be effective in any particular city, there must be a significant commitment to resources for the project.
"The 'threat' of a bait car program, no matter the results, has proven effective in many jurisdictions — especially when it's well advertised."
Curbs bike thefts on Toronto, Vancouver campuses
The University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver are using GPS to cut down on campus bicycle theft.
Once a "bait bike" sporting a hidden GPS marker is stolen, police track its location with the hopes that it will lead them to catch thieves red-handed.
Bait bike program co-ordinator Special Constable Peter Franchi notes that more than 100 bikes are stolen from the Toronto campus each academic year, a fact which discourages people from reaping the fitness and environmental benefits biking provides, and hits cash-strapped students hard.
Since the university began a pilot Bike Bait program on Sept. 29, a number of charges have been laid — including four arrests in a single day.
"We have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of bike thefts since the program's inception," Franchi said.
Watching in the workplace
GPS-based technology has also been added to other types of employee surveillance already being used in Canadian workplaces — keystroke, e-mail and phone call monitoring, along with video cameras and tracking with identification cards, just to name a few.
Employees carrying company phones with a GPS option can be tracked, too, as long as the phone is turned on. In addition, GPS is being used to monitor employee activity through receivers placed in company equipment and vehicles.
More and more businesses with decentralized workforces in areas such as building contractors, facility management, towing, telecom services and waste management are turning to wireless location-based fleet management services.
This is a field also known as telematics, which can include things beyond mere location data, such as providing information on when vehicle doors are open, the temperature inside a refrigerated truck or a record of how long a given engine idles.
"Growth [of our company] is about 40 per cent per month," said David Katz, the president of the Victoria-based Nero Global Tracking.
Companies track vehicles, equipment, hours
Knowing the location of company vehicles and equipment — often a business's largest investment — provides important benefits, such as being able to demonstrate service completion to customers and streamline operations.
For instance, GPS tracking allows cab, delivery, waste disposal and road maintenance companies and emergency services to more effectively direct employees to the next task or help them avoid traffic, automate payroll based on hours worked, and optimize driver training.
Rental car businesses are using GPS to catch speeding customers to charge them extra for the additional wear and tear, or for crossing an agreed-on boundary such as a national border.
It all comes down to the fact that as tracking technology gets better and cheaper, it's playing a bigger role in our work and personal lives.
It is hard to predict how GPS and other tracking technologies will be used in the future, but one thing is for certain: The more you know about the technology, the more you are able to understand how it affects your life.