Thursday, January 27, 2011

"I Will Smash Your Face In"

I've been reading a book called God Save the Fan, by Will Leitch, founder of Deadspin. Deadspin, of course, is an independent sports Web site Leitch started because he felt the people who should be reporting sports news (i.e. ESPN) wouldn't report things in an unbiased manner for fear of damaging their relationship with different sports leagues.

Anyway, in his book, one of the chapters talked about how people idolize players that, if they met them in person, they would not really like. For example, it's easy for me to say Derek Jeter and David Wright and Eli Manning seem like nice people, but I've never met them, and can't know for sure. I'd assume they are similar to most of us, in that they have bad days, make bad decisions sometimes, and have their own insecurities. In the past, the only way players and the masses generally communicated was through press conferences with local reporters who wouldn't always publish everything a player said, for fear of damaging their relationship with the player and team. If I work for the local NBC affiliate and made a certain player angry, the player (and perhaps his teammates) might just give important news to the CBS affiliate, damaging my ability to do my job.

Enter Twitter.

As I have discussed in the past (here, here, here, and here), leagues have tried to crack down on Twitter use, in part to protect the league and in to protect the players from themselves.

The NFL is at a crossroads at the moment. The collective bargaining agreement has run out, and no one is quite sure if the NFL will exist in the fall. Some players are not happy with that idea, and Antonio Cromartie (cornerback, for the NY Jets) called out the union leadership. A player from the Seahawks, Matt Hasselback tweeted (and then deleted) a comment saying someone should ask Cromartie if he knew what CBA stood for. Of course, this could have been a joke, but you can't hear the tone of a message over the Internet. Hasselback apparently decided to delete the message, but once you publish, people see it!

Of course, Cromartie took offense to this, and instead of calling Hasselback and talking with him, tweeted that he will smash Hasselback's face in. Really.

Just because you are a professional athlete doesn't mean you are professional (see: Rae Carruth, Lawrence Phillips, etc.).

So, who knows if Hasselback is a jerk, or if Cromartie really wouldn't smash someone's face in over a comment. Either way, the way news is reported is changing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Metadata and You

I first encountered the word metadata back when I started creating Web pages in the mid 1990's. Programs called "search engines", like Webcrawler and Altavista, would automatically find your page and make it available for the world to find. They did have issues adequately describing your page, so as a Web developer adding "meta tags" was critical. It was a way of adding text that did not show up in the Web browser, but allowed search engines to find information about your site.

Metadata is something that is used today in many areas, from computer forensics to corporate espionage. I will give you a regular example first. As a professor, there are times when I think something might be an exact copy of someone else's file. The first thing I will do is take a look at the file properties. In Office 2010, I would go to the File tab and select "Info". On the right side are properties. I can see very easily the name of the person who created the file. In a computer lab, most people probably have the same user name, so that may not tell me anything. However, if you created it at home and gave it to a friend, there is pretty damning evidence since your friend has handed in a file with your name in it. Other ways include "date created" - this tells me the day and time the file was created. I am of course not opening up my whole bag of tricks here, but these are two ways to investigate a file further.

In terms of corporate espionage and hacking...many times, the metadata in programs such as Word (and most of the rest of Office) includes data like username, company name and a file path. If this file was created on a network drive, I now know the name of one of your company's internal servers and possibly your username. This information is valuable for hackers!

If you are distributing a file from Office, also be aware if your company uses tracking changes, revisions, comments, or hidden text, that information can be included in a file you distribute. If a member of a company's staff left a comment in the file, there is a good chance it could be found. You can use the Office 2010 Prepare for Sharing options to minimize this risk, though once again, most people do not realize this.

Even programs like Photoshop can cause metadata issues. Let's say you have an image, and you choose to blur out bits of it. Photoshop will save a thumbnail as part of the file, to make it quicker for the operating system to give users a preview. Therefore, a smart hacker may be able to see your original image using some advanced techniques. Programs such as jStrip will help minimize this risk, but many people don't realize it is a risk.

Like many other technology issues, the only way people know about this generally seems to be if they are burned by it.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Verizon, Google, and Net Neutrality

The idea of "net neutrality" is an important one. All ISPs (Internet Service Providers) work together in a collaborative way on the Internet. There are a few key points:
  1. ISPs and other Internet companies do not discriminate against each other's traffic (for example, Gmail won't block all email from Yahoo! accounts to try to convince people to use Gmail, and vice versa).
  2. Every Web site should have the same priority. In other words, pages from Amazon won't be transmitted before pages from some small Web site. This also his prevents companies like Comcast and Verizon (in my area) from trying to get exclusivity agreements with certain sites. For example, right now net neutrality would prevent Comcast paying YouTube a bunch of money in exchange for having faster YouTube connections (and effectively slowing Verizon customers). If they could do this sort of thing, it would make our lives as consumers much more complicated.
  3. Finally, in practice, this prevents Internet Service Providers from filtering our content and throttling certain types of downloads (for example, blocking or slowing down downloads from file sharing sites).
Note that this isn't the same as monthly download traffic caps, which some providers (such as Comcast) have, and others (such as Verizon FIOS) do not.

Anyway, one of my students (thanks, Kevin!) brought in an article (available here on PC World's Web site) last semester that details a Google/Verizon pact. It sounds great in theory, but there are some ideas that may be shady. First of all, though it says the Internet should maintain net neutrality, they include the phrase "lawful Internet content", which some people interpret as a way to stop file sharing. Secondly, they do not address wireless access, because they feel the market is competitive enough. Finally, there is a provision for a private Internet which would not be covered. Though this could be something positive (stuff like health care systems), others interpret this as a way companies might find a way to exploit and get around net neutrality.

It sounds bad, but a bigger issue is this is all informal as it stands, and companies can do whatever they want at the moment. Something needs to be in place and formalized, and as I've mentioned before, most of the people in Congress do not have a technology background. I just hope we do not find ourselves in a bad situation in five years because Congress got Rickrolled by Verizon and Google.