Wednesday, 20 September 2017


5 Ways Your Information Is Being Exploited Every Day
By Philip Bates,
Make Use Of, 19 September 2017.

Are you privacy-conscious? How troubled are you by corporate invasions of privacy?

You may not be too worried about having your rights infringed. You might be very concerned by the fact you’re being tracked. It actually doesn’t matter too much, because a lot of the things we take for granted can also be used against us.

Here’s how you’re being exploited right now.

1. Social Media Tracking

Image credit: Hamza Butt/Flickr

Facebook boasts some 1.9 billion users, of which 1.28 billion use it every single day. Twitter pales in comparison, and yet still has a considerable 328 million monthly users. Instagram has swiftly overtaken the microblogging platform with some 700 million users.

These social media networks gather huge amounts of information about you. Facebook, once more, is a giant in this respect: it eats up as much data as it can, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII), your interests (courtesy of what you “like” and share), and the content of any messages you leave or that are left on your profile.

Heck, Facebook even knows what you look like.

Some might take a moral high ground and think they’re safe because they’re not on Facebook, but that doesn’t matter. Thanks to domains - fan sites, for instance - and social media plugins installed on millions of popular sites, you’ve got a shadow profile (i.e. a database of information on people who aren’t using the platform).

Why? Because these media services are free, meaning you are what’s being sold. Your information is worth a great deal of revenue. Advertisements can be targeted specifically at you, so what’s promoted can be focused on your location, your hobbies, and what times you’re most active online.

2. Your Political Leanings

Image credit: Borrell

You have an absolute right to keep your voting history secret. No one should be able to see which way you swing on any given election and which allegiance is closest to your heart.

But some break cover and fly the flag. Others don’t necessarily, but from various information submitted, again on social media, your political persuasion can be inferred.

This leaves you open to a great deal of propaganda: digital marketing has never been so important, meaning you’re bound to be bombarded with politically-charged messages. The same private information used by advertisers can also passed onto parties. But this isn’t about benefiting from your money - it’s about swaying your agendas.

Campaigns, at least in the U.S., typically begin around two years before an election, so there’s plenty of time to exploit what you’re doing in your free time (checking Twitter, for instance) for political gain.

The scariest thing is, you might not realize it’s happening because not all these campaigns are overt. It was revealed by Facebook representatives that “geographically-targeted” ad sales totalling US$100,000 beginning in summer 2015 were traced back to a Russian “troll farm.” Some of these apparently named American candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (though Facebook refused to confirm which was portrayed as the better option).

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote that relatively few named a candidate or even the election in general:

“Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum - touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

3. Loyalty Cards

Image credit: Nick Webb/Flickr

Unlike being used as political pawns, with this example of exploitation, you actually get something in return.

The popularity of loyalty card schemes has grown recently, partly due to their expansion into digital platforms. You know the deal: if you shop at a certain store regularly, they reward you with bargains. You might get a free coffee after having so many hot drinks from an establishment, or get money off every few weeks.

How does this benefit a store? The first clue is in the title: loyalty. Obvious, right? Essentially, they’re saying, “if you buy from us regularly enough, we’ll give you special offers and free stuff.” Lovely.

Except these deals are often personalized. So they further benefit from storing some details, notably shopping habits - although apps might also collect data on your device’s history, contacts, and Wi-Fi connections.

Let’s say you’re purchasing lots of nappies from a supermarket. The chances are, you’ve got a new baby in the family. Around Christmas time, for example, the shop may start promoting children’s toys more heavily than before.

It’s a catch-22. You like saving cash, but in order to do so, you have to sacrifice some level of privacy.

You should always check privacy policies before signing up for anything, but many loyalty schemes refuse to sell your information on, for fear of breaching data protection laws. Still, the wealth of details on file about customers can make them a big target for hackers.

4. In-Store Location

Image credit: Rene Schwietzke/Flickr

Stores use a similar tactic when it comes to coupon services. They offer you discounts on specific products, hoping that you’ll be tempted to visit a store then browse.

The same thing has been going on for ages, in the form of “loss leaders.” This is typically why essential goods, like bread and milk, are located at the back of a shop. As you search for what you came in for, you’ll likely see something else you want to buy.

Having in-store Wi-Fi (which some connect to in order to save money and cell data) enables many high-street shops to track customers. You don’t even have to connect to it: your smartphone consistently sends out requests to find signals. These are given off by beacons around a shop and tracking how far between beacons those requests are made can give an estimated location.

That means you might consider buying something, wander off, then come back - by which time, a voucher app has alerted you that there’s money off that particular product. It gives you that final push into purchasing.

Okay, so not everyone uses voucher apps, but more than 90 percent of American consumers do.

Still, even if you don’t use those, that doesn’t mean malls can’t exploit you. By using the same methods, Wi-Fi Analytics can see how customers interact with the store: what routes they take, which sections are most popular, and how long they stay. This information can all be used to manipulate us.

That’s without even mentioning CCTV.

5. Your Smartphone Battery

Image credit: Tom Shepherd‏/Twitter

Your smartphone can act as a marker as to your location, but also how dire your situation might be.

As ridiculous as it sounds, apps can use your cell’s battery against you. Or, from another point of view, they can use it to help you out.

It started out altruistically enough: certain apps can check how much charge you’ve got, so if you’re on low power, they could limit the amount of elements used that are a particular strain on your battery. It’s one use for Low Power Mode too. But some firms can further utilize this information to determine how desperate you are for their service.

Most famously, it’s a tactic reportedly used by Uber. We’re so attached to our smartphones that we feel a need to have access to this form of communications all the time. It’s for emergencies, right? That means that, if your phone drops below 20 percent, you might worry about getting home. According to reports, you’re more likely to accept so-called “surge prices” (increased fares for travel, supposedly at busier times) when your battery is running low.

It’s also a handy indicator that you’ve been away from home for a time as most folk charge their devices before they leave.

What Can You Do?

wpsCD3C.tmpImage credit: g4ll4is/Flickr

This is about damage limitation, because it’s very unlikely you’re going to abandon the internet completely. That’s arguably the only way you’ll stop social networks tracking you entirely.

Still, you can reduce the number of details you share on services like Facebook and Instagram. Do you really need to “check in” at every opportunity? Do you need to “like” that page? Should you really share that photo and tag all the people you’re with?

Encryption also helps. Try a virtual private network (VPN), which adds a solid layer of security and anonymity to what you’re doing outside social media infrastructure.

This should also cut down the likelihood of your political persuasion being inferred, but you can also attempt to block all related content from your feed.

As for loyalty cards, the ball is naturally in your court. You have to decide whether it’s worthwhile giving up some privacy so you can enjoy bargains. The majority of people find this is an acceptable trade-off.

What can you do about the signals your smartphone sends off? It’s impractical to keep it turned off, but you could disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Delete any reward schemes that you don’t use very often, and assess whether any actually benefit you.

When it comes to apps learning when your battery power is low, the answer is obvious: keep it charged up as much as possible. Aim for at least 80 percent when you walk out the door each morning.

What Should You Do?

This is something else entirely. What you can do, and what you should do depends completely on how you feel about your privacy.

Everyone will be different. To some, the money saved by being less privacy-conscious outweighs the sacrifice of personal details. Others will go to extreme measures to avoid surveillance.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: Make Use Of. Top image added.]

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


In a world where watches monitor your heart rate, and phones convert your voice to text, anything can seem possible. But even though technology continues to defy boundaries, many people wonder whatever happened to the gadgets they saw in science fiction as kids. Well, as this infographic by Who Is Hosting This shows, many of them exist - and are for sale!

[Post Source: Who Is Hosting This.]


10 Ludicrously Expensive Apps
By Robert Grimminck,
Toptenz, 18 September 2017.

Apps are great because they are pieces of software that are usually relatively cheap, especially considering 20 years ago similar programs would have cost 100 times more and wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. In fact, most aren’t just cheap; a vast majority of apps in both the Apple’s App Store and Google Play are free. But not all apps are low in price. Here are 10 of the most ludicrously expensive apps you can buy. Though, as you’ll soon see…why would you?

10. Super Color Runner: US$200


In Google Play there are dozens, if not hundreds of games where you run along an endless path and avoid obstacles. There are two things that set Super Color Runner apart from those games. The first is that “Rather than running down a single endless path in this game you have to fill up four paths with energy.” The point of the game is to stay alive by collecting enough “energy pellets” to keep your batteries charged. The second difference is that Super Color Runner costs US$200 to download, which is about US$200 more expensive than a majority of the other running games.

The designer wrote that he plans to update the game in the near future, but the last update was in 2012, so we don’t recommend holding your breath on that one.

9. The Most Expensive App(s): US$400


The Most Expensive App ( Danger ) prides itself on being nothing more than a waste of money. Or as they like to put it, it allows you to show your status in life.

The app does nothing else but show you a message congratulating you on downloading the app and patting you on the back for being rich, saying you deserve it. A message also pops up saying “Hey Rich guy…what is up ???” Because there is nothing like paying US$400 for an app and then getting a spam-like message from it.

Amazingly, it has a perfect five star rating, albeit just one person rated it. A similar app that does even less than the Most Expensive App ( Danger ), called The Most Expensive App (Im Rich) has 152 five-star ratings. The I’m Rich version of the app just has an icon with a diamond on it that does nothing when you press it. But we guess if you say the app does nothing, and then you deliver on that, it must be worth a five-star rating.

We’re wondering: wouldn’t something like US$400 shoes be a better way to show off your cash flow? How many people see your phone screen and actually pay attention to your apps? People may not notice your shoes, either, but at least they serve a function. They’re particularly good for kicking people who waste their money on this app.

8. DDS GP Yes!: US$699.99


To become a dentist, you have to get an undergraduate degree and then there are four years of dentistry school. So they know a lot about teeth, and trying to explain what they have to do to their patients’ teeth can be a difficult task. That’s where the terribly named DDS GP Yes! app comes in. It’s an iOS app that allows the dentist to show patients procedures, and what the results will be afterwards. It also shows what would happen without treatment, similar to what Lisa Simpson saw in the episode where she needs braces.

The app also contains about 80 minutes of lessons for the dentists to explain conditions and treatment plans, and it recommends methods to help influence patients so that they make better decisions regarding their dental health.

For all that, it costs US$699.99. According to the developer’s website, the app is used in 13,000 dental clinics.

7. QSFFStats: US$999.99


Some apps, like Candy Crush Saga, are made for mass appeal. The developers, or whoever owns the game, give it away for free and try to sell you stuff inside the game. Other apps are made to fill niches where only certain people will find it useful or interesting. These apps are usually a bit more expensive because apps aren’t cheap to make; they can cost tens of thousands of dollars, if not over a hundred thousand, and the developers need to recoup their money somehow.

That could explain why QSFFStats is so expensive, because it’s one of the most niche apps around. It’s an iPhone app that isn’t available in the app store, but its purpose is for people to track stats in their flag football league. To do that, it will set you back US$999.99. Yes, all those stats that can easily be tracked by a spreadsheet, which are free through Google Docs, is available in an app that costs a grand. Seems like a solid investment to us.

6. app.Cash: US$999.99


app.Cash is a point-of-sale, or POS, application that says it is for “all purposes” in Apple’s App Store, but when you visit the website, it’s actually meant to be used in restaurants, and hotels with restaurants. While US$999.99 may sound like a lot for an app, it appears that it is a one-time purchase.

Other POS systems, like Light POS Inc., offer the app for free, but then charge anywhere from US$69 to US$198 a month to use their system. So while app.Cash may be one of the most expensive apps available, it’s actually quite a steal in terms of POS systems.

5. I Am Rich: US$999.99

The first “status symbol” app was the I Am Rich app, developed by Armin Heinrich. It was for the first generation of iPhone and went on sale on August 5, 2008, for US$999.99, which was the maximum price for an app.

“The red icon on your iPhone or iPod touch always reminds you (and others when you show it to them) that you were able to afford this.
It’s a work of art with no hidden function at all.
After pressing the (i) on the main page, a secret mantra will be shown. This may help you to stay rich, healthy and successful.”
As for the mantra, it said:
I am rich
I deserv it
I am good,
healthy & successful
Yes, you read that right: deserve was spelled incorrectly in the mantra. So apparently Heinrich was targeting rich people with low self-esteem who didn’t care about spelling or grammar.

Amazingly, within hours, eight people purchased the app, but not everyone was happy about it. One person thought it was a joke and downloaded it, and he was shocked to see that Apple charged US$999.99 to his credit card, so he wrote a scathing review.

Without explanation, the app was taken down the next day. Apple then released lengthy guidelines for their apps, and apps like I Am Rich are no longer allowed in Apple’s App Store (though this very app was later made available at a much lower price, still as dumb and pointless as ever).

In total, Heinrich made about US$5,600 from the app and Apple was paid US$2,400, but had to refund two people, so they only netted US$400.

4. LogMeIn Ignition: US$1,399.99


One of the most expensive apps available is found in the Apple App Store: the LogMeIn Ignition app, which you can get for your iPhone or iPad…but it will set you back US$1,399.99. The app allows you to access the files and apps that are on your computer or tablet from your phone. That’s right, for the price of new computer or several tablets, the app allows you to access another computer or tablet through a different smart device.

In Google Play, the app is free. However, they charge a membership which is US$250 a year for access to two computers. So we guess that’s a deal?

3. CyberTuner: US$1,399.99


The CyberTuner app from Reyburn Piano Service, Inc. is for a very niche market - professional piano tuners. It turns out that piano tuning software isn’t exactly cheap. One of the more reasonably priced applications is about US$300. The CyberTuner is the most expensive piano tuning software and they call themselves the gold standard in the field.

They sell the app for US$1,399.99, which is more than double the price of their closest competitor. They justify their price because they say that it is easy to use. Well, we sure hope it is, since it’d be a real kick in the head if it was complicated and crashed all the time at that price.

2. iVIP Black: US$1,399.99


iVIP Black is an app for millionaires. Literally. You can only access the services available on the app if you can prove that you have a net worth of US$1.28 million. Once you do, you’ll have access to what is essentially a Groupon for rich people. This includes getting deals on rich people things, like butlers and private jets. As freelance writers, we know all to well about these things.

The good news for you Android users that have over US$1.28 million: the app is free for you, but you still have to prove you’re rich, and there is a subscription.

1. Abu Moo: US$400 - US$2,400


How useful an app is sometimes comes down to the individual. If you work out a lot, there are a considerable amount of apps that will help you get the most out your exercises. Or there are apps that will help you save money on groceries, and other apps have McDonald’s delivered to your house so you never have to grocery shop again. Not to mention how many games there are that are great time wasters.

Many of these apps are completely free, and others cost about much as however much change you’ve got in your pocket. But for the most part, they do tend to serve some type of function.

Now we get to the most expensive app available, which is Abu Moo. Well, technically it’s six different versions of the same app…but you want to be a completist and collect them all, right?

Abu Moo is a series of six apps that are available in Google Play. The apps are US$400 each, so it’s US$2,400 for the set, which are just six different pictures of rings. When you download the apps and install them, a picture of the gem stone appears on your phone. That’s it.

So, uh…maybe do something better with your money, like donate it to charity? That seems like a better thing to do. Yeah, do that instead.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]

Saturday, 16 September 2017


Some of the richest people on Earth display their vast wealth by investing in enormous, luxurious residences. This infographic by Pennnywell profiles the 10 most expensive homes in the world, detailing the characteristics that make each one so remarkable.

[Post Source: Pennnywell.]


Every country has their own culture and beliefs, as well as their own superstitions. Some of these superstitions may sound farfetched while others can be scientifically rationalised. But there are some superstitions that are just plain weird. The following infographic by Solar Centre illustrates the most bizarre superstitions from around the world that you probably didn’t know about.

[Source: Solar Centre.]

Friday, 15 September 2017


The 9 Biggest Mysteries of Saturn
By Elizabeth Howell,, 8 September 2017.

Saturn's ringed world has attracted attention ever since humans first looked at the sky. The rings became visible to humans more than 400 years ago, and scientists finally got a close-up look at the planet when the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft swung by the planet in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, NASA and the European Space Agency have an orbiting spacecraft called Cassini at Saturn. Cassini has been there since 2004 and will last until September 2017, when a planned maneuver will plunge it deep into Saturn's atmosphere. Here are some of the lingering mysteries at Saturn, according to Cassini deputy project scientist Scott Edgington, who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. [As Cassini Makes 1st 'Grand Finale' Dive, More Saturn Mysteries Remain]

1. How long is a day on Saturn?


After more than a decade, Cassini still hasn't closed in on one of Saturn's fundamental properties: how long a day is in its interior (how long it takes to rotate all the way around). At first, scientists thought they could determine that length based on radio waves emitted by the planet, as they did at Jupiter. Jupiter sends out radio waves that sync with the planet's rotation, but Saturn's emission, called Saturn kilometric radiation, does not do the same thing.

"Variation in radio waves controlled by the planet's rotation is different in the northern and southern hemispheres," NASA wrote in 2014. "The northern and southern rotational variations also appear to change with the Saturnian seasons, and the hemispheres have actually swapped rates."

In 2011, NASA said the variations in radio-wave periods likely came from changes in high-altitude winds in both hemispheres. But it's still not known how long a day is on Saturn.

2. What is the mass of Saturn's ring system?


Understanding how much Saturn's rings "weigh" would tell scientists a lot about how old they are and how they formed. But in order to make a precise measurement of the mass of the ring system, researchers need to know more about Saturn's gravity and about the density of the rings. The data collected during Cassini's death dive into Saturn's atmosphere will help scientists get closer to answering this long-standing question.

3. How deep do Saturn lightning storms reach, and are they powerful enough to drive Saturn's climate?


Particularly when a massive storm engulfed the northern hemisphere in 2010 and 2011, scientists saw lightning strikes on Saturn. Scientists were surprised to see lightning flashing during the day (as well as at night), which showed just how strong the storms were - that the lightning was intense enough to see by day. One pictured flash was roughly as strong as the strongest lightning blasts on Earth. Scientists are using this kind of information to figure out where the lightning came from, although it's unclear what changes this produces in Saturn's climate overall.

"The flash is approximately 100 miles (200 kilometers) in diameter when it exits the tops of the clouds," NASA wrote in 2012. "From this, scientists deduce that the lightning bolts originate in the clouds deeper down in Saturn's atmosphere where water droplets freeze. This is analogous to where lightning is created in Earth's atmosphere."

4. What drives the hurricane-like vortices at each of Saturn's poles?


From the time Cassini arrived at Saturn, scientists saw a strange hexagon feature around the north pole that is double the size of Earth. At first, scientists could not see what was at the center of the hexagon because the pole was in winter darkness. In 2013, however, scientists got visible-light views of a hurricane inside the hexagon. While hurricanes on Earth form over the ocean, there is no ocean under the Saturn storm.

"Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water," NASA scientists wrote in 2013. "Although there is no body of water close to these clouds high in Saturn's atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained."

5. What is the helium-to-hydrogen ratio of Saturn's atmosphere?


Helium and hydrogen are the two most abundant elements in the universe, and also in our own solar system. These are the elements that principally make up our sun as well as the largest gas giant planets: Jupiter and Saturn. Precisely narrowing down the ratio of helium to hydrogen helps scientists understand what the inside of each planet looks like, and how they came to be.

In 2006, a group of scientists led by Daniel Gautier of the Paris Observatory noted that 1980s measurements by the Voyager spacecraft didn't make much sense. The helium-to-hydrogen ratio of 0.034 "is difficult to reconcile with plausible theories of the evolution of the planet," an abstract by the team said. At the time, Gautier's group performed several radio occultation measurements near the equator but received different results. As of mid-2017, the precise ratio is still not known.

6. What does the gravity field reveal about the winds, composition, and phase changes of the interior?


The state of Saturn's interior remains a mystery, which makes the length-of-day measurement difficult to obtain. In 2007, research led by the University of California's John Anderson and published in the journal Science combined gravitational data with Pioneer and Voyager radio occultation and wind data.

That paper suggested a rotation period of 10 hours, 32 minutes and 35 seconds, which would imply that Saturn's interior has a "molecular to metallic hydrogen transition about halfway to the planet's center," the paper stated." Since then, however, scientists have found that Saturn's wind speed changes between measurements, making it harder to predict the composition of the interior. A newer direction of research suggests using Saturn's gravity field to learn more about the planet's insides, but this is a work in progress. [NASA's Epic Cassini Mission to Saturn Gets Awesome Video Treatment]

In this photo, three very different moons provide targets of great interest for planetary scientists who are studying the Saturn system. Captured here by Cassini are Tethys at upper right, Enceladus below center and Janus at lower left, along with the planet's rings.

7. How soon will the atmosphere at the location of the 2010-2011 storm return to normal?


Echoes of a huge storm on Saturn are still reverberating. In 2010 to 2011, scientists tracked a huge storm that (in NASA scientists' words) ended up "wreaking havoc for months" and "shooting plumes of gas high into the planet's atmosphere."

Only six storms of this type have been seen since 1876, and scientists were lucky to catch this one, as the previous storm occurred more than two decades ago, in 1990. In 2011, Cassini measurements in the infrared - the first ever performed by an orbiting spacecraft - helped scientists learn more about Saturn's interior environment. But because these storms have never been studied so closely, it's unclear when the atmosphere will return to normal levels, or what's driving the mechanism.

8. How is energy from Saturn's auroras redistributed from the poles toward the equator, and can it explain elevated temperatures in part of the planet's atmosphere?


Sometimes, it takes multiple spacecraft to get a full picture of what's going on at Saturn. Multiple sources were needed to get a handle on the ringed planet's auroras: In 2014, NASA released images taken from data from Cassini (in infrared, visible light and ultraviolet) as well as the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (in ultraviolet wavelengths) that lent insight into how the auroras change over time.

Scientists were able to capture these images with a resolution down to about a few hundred miles, NASA wrote at the time, and "tied the changes in the auroras to the fluctuating wind of charged particles blowing off the sun and flowing past Saturn." But they are still trying to learn where the auroral energy goes afterward, and if auroras could show why the thermosphere (an area of the atmosphere just below the tenuous exosphere) has a higher temperature than expected, given Saturn's distance from the sun and supposed interior composition.

Cassini will make its "Grand Finale" dive into Saturn's atmosphere Sept. 15 - getting our closest-ever look into what goes on in the planet's gravity, magnetic field and atmosphere.

9. How does material from Saturn's rings mix with the planet's atmosphere?

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

During its Grand Finale phase, the Cassini spacecraft skimmed Saturn's upper atmosphere multiple times before making one deep dive toward planet on Sept. 15, 2017. Cassini is the only probe ever to have sampled Saturn's atmosphere in-situ, and thus provided scientists with brand new information about the relationship between the planet's atmosphere and its ring system. Linda Spilker, the Cassini project scientist, said the data from those early atmospheric run-ins suggest that the chemical and dynamic interactions between particles from the planet's rings and the planet's upper atmosphere are "more complex…than we had both anticipated." From those initial tastes of Saturn's atmosphere, Cassini scientists are already finding "incredible, intriguing information" about how the material from Saturn's ring system mixes with the upper layers of the planet's atmosphere, Spilker said. As scientists have time to interpret the data from Cassini's final dive, more information about this unique planetary system will be revealed.

Top image: A captivating natural color view of the planet Saturn that was created from images collected shortly after Cassini began its extended Equinox Mission in July 2008. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.