Citing terrorism, Egypt to step up surveillance of social media

Christian Science Monitor reports: Egypt is tightening its control over social media by acquiring new software that would facilitate extensive monitoring of dissidents’ communications, putting even stay-at-home opposition supporters at risk.

Authorities say they need such tools to fight terrorism in Egypt. On Monday, two bombs exploded near the presidential palace in Cairo, killing two police officials.

However, Egypt’s planned surveillance system comes amid the most repressive period for decades. Over the past year, security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, according to Human Rights Watch. That raises fears that social media that helped fuel the 2011 uprising against Mubarak and remain a potent platform for free speech will no longer play this role. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS steps up international recruitment drive

The Wall Street Journal reports: A Sunni jihadist group that has seized vast territories in Iraq and Syria is parlaying its battlefield successes into a recruitment drive that is attracting more foreign fighters, say Western and Arab officials.

The message from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS: Join us in forming a Sunni-led religious state spanning from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

One recruitment video, released on Friday, shows gun-toting militants, speaking with British and Australian accents, extolling the virtues of jihad and inviting viewers to join their battle in Syria and Iraq.

It isn’t the first time ISIS has tried to recruit Islamists while carefully crafting its image on social media to raise its appeal among jihadists.

But the video, disseminated last week on ISIS’s first non-Arabic Twitter accounts in English, German and Russian, is the group’s first English-language drive for foot soldiers, and reflects its attempt to burnish its jihadist credentials farther afield. [Continue reading...]

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Media giants discussing deals with Vice

The New York Times reports: A black S.U.V. recently rolled through the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and stopped in front of the converted warehouse that is the global headquarters of Vice Media. Out of the vehicle stepped the media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox owns a small stake in Vice, and he was visiting Brooklyn to meet with Vice’s chief executive, Shane Smith. Among the topics at hand was a rumor that Vice was negotiating to collaborate with, and perhaps sell a large stake to, one of Fox’s competitors, Time Warner.

Fox is discussing a deal with Vice, too. So is Disney. Any agreement is likely to value Vice, which started as a free magazine in Montreal in 1994, at $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. A partnership could take many shapes. But Vice, which has produced just 11 hours of programming expressly for television, is seeking its own TV network, a movie deal and a lot of money for its founders and investors.

The digital disruption that is transforming the news and entertainment businesses has led to many odd alliances, but few seem more incongruous than one that would join Vice with a corporate media conglomerate. Though financing itself mostly by making videos in partnership with large corporations, Vice has assiduously cultivated an insurgent image, with its tattooed news correspondents, hand-held cameras and journalistic stunts like sending the former basketball player Dennis Rodman to North Korea.

Along the way, Mr. Smith, 44, has routinely criticized the mainstream media and traditional television. If he can reach a deal with one of these companies, he will be joining the club he has professed to disdain.[Continue reading...]

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Despite the explosion in online analytics, marketers still don’t know what they’re doing

Pando reports: We’re in the second decade of the advertising and marketing revolution brought on by the Internet, one that has ripped the heart out of the print media industry. Digital content is targeted and responsive now, offering marketers detailed insight into who clicked, who read, and who shared.

Except the sad thing is, as evidenced by Contently’s The State of Content Marketing Measurement report, a survey of 302 marketers across April and May, is that no one really knows if the new information on offer makes any sense.

The statistics are staggering: 91 percent of marketers Contently spoke to had some level of uncertainty to whether the content performance analytics they used were a good gauge of business impact. [Continue reading...]

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A sophisticated ISIS social media campaign

CBS News reports: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s on-the-ground offensive in northern Iraq this month has been aided, analysts say, by an unprecedented social media blitz.

Jihadi groups using Twitter and other social platforms is nothing new. During its 2013 attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall, the Somali militant group al-Shabab mixed tweets with gunshots. Observers have long warned about the growth of social media as powerful recruitment tools for terrorists.

What makes the ISIS social campaign stand out, analysts say, is its scale and sophistication.

“I think it was obvious very early on that they launched their offensive with a social media campaign well planned in advance. This wasn’t an afterthought. This wasn’t something that they made up as they went along,” said John Little, who monitors national security, conflicts and technology at Blogs of War.

The coordinated campaign has featured what appears to be disciplined, from-the-top-down message control designed to simulate organic grass-roots activity. Complete with an app and highly orchestrated hashtag pushes, the group’s social media strategy mirrors that of a marketing company building buzz around a new product.

“Big corporations wish they were as good at this as ISIS is,” said J.M. Berger, an author and analyst who specializes in social media and extremism, and has been closely monitoring the al Qaeda splinter group’s online activity.

“This is a combination of an extremely ambitious military campaign with an extremely ambitious PR campaign. Social media is most of that PR campaign.”

ISIS has developed a Twitter app for Android phones called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, Berger said. It offers users news and information about ISIS. When users sign up, they give ISIS permission to send tweets through their own personal accounts.

“Your account functions normally most of the time, but it will periodically broadcast tweets from ISIS that are also sent around at the same time to hundreds or even thousands of other accounts,” Berger told CBS News. He said the app helps ISIS get pre-approved hashtags trending on Twitter in certain areas, which then amplifies its message.

“It’s one of many tools that ISIS uses to manipulate the perception on social media that their content is bigger and more popular than it might actually be if you were looking at just their organic supporters.”

Berger reports that ISIS posted almost 40,000 tweets in one day last week as it took Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Its messages are then parroted by Internet users unaffiliated with the group and far away from the fight, sometimes called “E-hadis” or “Jihobbyists.”

“They have at least hundreds and probably more like thousands of fighters who are on social media, and then in addition to that they have many thousands of people who are casually or intensely interested in them as supporters online,” Berger said. [Continue reading...]

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Documents show how Russia’s troll army hit America

BuzzFeed reports: Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites.

Plans attached to emails leaked by a mysterious Russian hacker collective show IT managers reporting on a new ideological front against the West in the comments sections of Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily.

The bizarre hive of social media activity appears to be part of a two-pronged Kremlin campaign to claim control over the internet, launching a million-dollar army of trolls to mold American public opinion as it cracks down on internet freedom at home.

“Foreign media are currently actively forming a negative image of the Russian Federation in the eyes of the global community,” one of the project’s team members, Svetlana Boiko, wrote in a strategy document. “Additionally, the discussions formed by comments to those articles are also negative in tone.

“Like any brand formed by popular opinion, Russia has its supporters (‘brand advocates’) and its opponents. The main problem is that in the foreign internet community, the ratio of supporters and opponents of Russia is about 20/80 respectively.”

The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day. [Continue reading...]

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Privacy issues could threaten the future of commercial social media

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes: The FTC has ruled that data brokers need to be more transparent. The slow reveal of NSA snooping details continues (as Glenn Greenwald’s book may get made into a movie, and you can bet Snowden’s tome is already being ghost-written). eBay has just joined the long list of businesses to have its data hacked. The privacy issue isn’t going away any time soon, though the commercial social media sites have deftly surfed the edges of the wave. Considering the low thresholds of user loyalty these platforms command, and the inexpensive ease by which true P2P communicating can be accomplished, I wonder how long before the leading “Big Social” companies either address the issue clearly , or are forced by regulators or consumers to suffer the consequences of failing to do so.

For instance, when Facebook recently announced changes to its default privacy settings on sharing with friends, it was revealed also that it could access smartphone mics to capture and analyze the songs, TV shows and other things users heard. Google suffered a court ruling in Europe earlier this year, forcing it to allow petitioners to be “forgotten” by its search engine, just as the continued rollout of its glasses promised to add every waking moment of users’ lives to its database (it also recently announced it would no longer scan students’ emails for marketing purposes, while admitting it had used data collected from its apps for government customers for just such purposes).

Add to these headlines the recurring experience of opt-in screens or other detailed mouseprint agreements users are required to approve in order to use many online services (Yahoo just changed its policy to deny users the ability to request that their behavior not get tracked, and called it an improvement in “personalized experience”). Even Wiki’s latest privacy changes are laudable for their transparency, but still woefully complex, as if they’re written only for the initiated to understand, let alone find.

This is muddled communicating, at best, and it’s hard not to think that it’s purposeful, since the profitability of these services depends on users remaining unaware of the extent to which their privacy is (or will be) exploited. [Continue reading...]

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The case for banning laptops in the classroom

Dan Rockmore writes: A colleague of mine in the department of computer science at Dartmouth recently sent an e-mail to all of us on the faculty. The subject line read: “Ban computers in the classroom?” The note that followed was one sentence long: “I finally saw the light today and propose we ban the use of laptops in class.”

While the sentiment in my colleague’s e-mail was familiar, the source was surprising: it came from someone teaching a programming class, where computers are absolutely integral to learning and teaching. Surprise turned to something approaching shock when, in successive e-mails, I saw that his opinion was shared by many others in the department.

My friend’s epiphany came after he looked up from his lectern and saw, yet again, an audience of laptop covers, the flip sides of which were engaged in online shopping or social-media obligations rather than in the working out of programming examples. In a “Network”-inspired Peter Finch moment, he quickly changed the screen of his lecture presentation to a Reddit feed and watched some soccer highlights. That got everyone’s attention. [Continue reading...]

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Internet giants erect barriers to spy agencies

The New York Times reports: Just down the road from Google’s main campus here, engineers for the company are accelerating what has become the newest arms race in modern technology: They are making it far more difficult — and far more expensive — for the National Security Agency and the intelligence arms of other governments around the world to pierce their systems.

As fast as it can, Google is sealing up cracks in its systems that Edward J. Snowden revealed the N.S.A. had brilliantly exploited. It is encrypting more data as it moves among its servers and helping customers encode their own emails. Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are taking similar steps.

After years of cooperating with the government, the immediate goal now is to thwart Washington — as well as Beijing and Moscow. The strategy is also intended to preserve business overseas in places like Brazil and Germany that have threatened to entrust data only to local providers.

Google, for example, is laying its own fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans, a project that began as an effort to cut costs and extend its influence, but now has an added purpose: to assure that the company will have more control over the movement of its customer data. [Continue reading...]

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Google investing over $1 billion on satellites, people say

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google intends to launch a fleet of 180 satellites. The sources for this report were people.

That’s right: people.

Apparently the paper’s reporters have yet to master the skill of picking up useful tips from dogs or migratory birds.

My hunch is that the sources here work for Google — but that’s just a hunch.

Google plans to spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the globe, people familiar with the project said, hoping to overcome financial and technical problems that thwarted previous efforts.

Details remain in flux, the people said, but the project will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and then could expand.

Google’s satellite venture is led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks Ltd., who recently joined Google with O3b’s former chief technology officer, the people said. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral LLC to work on the project, according to another person familiar with the hiring initiative.

Mr. Wyler has between 10 and 20 people working for him at Google and reports to Craig Barratt, who reports to Chief Executive Larry Page, one of the people said. Mr. Wyler couldn’t be reached.

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The cloud of unknowing

Karl Taro Greenfeld writes: I can’t help it. Every few weeks, my wife mentions the latest book her book club is reading, and no matter what it is, whether I’ve read it or not, I offer an opinion of the work, based entirely on … what, exactly? Often, these are books I’ve not even read a review or essay about, yet I freely hold forth on the grandiosity of Cheryl Strayed or the restrained sentimentality of Edwidge Danticat. These data motes are gleaned, apparently, from the ether — or, more realistically, from various social media feeds.

What was Solange Knowles’s elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn’t watch the security-camera video on TMZ — it would have taken too long — but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange had scrubbed her Instagram feed of photos of her sister, Beyoncé. How about this season of “Game of Thrones” and that nonconsensual intercourse in the crypt? I don’t watch the show, but I’ve scanned the recaps on Vulture.com, and I am prepared to argue that this was deeply offensive. Is Pope Francis a postmodern pontiff? I’ve never listened to one of his homilies nor watched his recent “60 Minutes” appearance, but I’ve seen plenty of his @Pontifex tweets retweeted, so I’m ready to say his position on inequality and social justice is remarkably progressive.

It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and then regurgitate them. Instead of watching “Mad Men” or the Super Bowl or the Oscars or a presidential debate, you can simply scroll through someone else’s live-tweeting of it, or read the recaps the next day. Our cultural canon is becoming determined by whatever gets the most clicks.

In his 1987 book “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” E. D. Hirsch Jr. listed 5,000 essential concepts and names — 1066, Babbitt, Pickwickian — that educated people should be familiar with. (Or at least that’s what I believe he wrote, not having actually read the book.) Mr. Hirsch’s book, along with its contemporary “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom, made the point that cultural literacy — Mr. Bloom’s canon — was the bedrock of our agreed-upon values.

What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it. We come perilously close to performing a pastiche of knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness. [Continue reading...]

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Still don’t care about net neutrality? Give the internet slow lane a try

Slate: One thing the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Tom Wheeler, seems to have overlooked in his widely loathed proposal for a net neutrality overhaul is that if the Internet has a fast lane, it must, necessarily, have a slow lane.

What would life be like in the slow lane—in a “pay to play” world where cable broadband providers can charge companies like Netflix a toll if they want reliable and swift streaming speeds? Well, not to exaggerate, but remember when you tried to use Neopets in 1999 on a dial-up connection?

Tech companies and activists are worried that the creation of two Internets: one quick and reliable for those that can afford it, and the other, of a lesser quality, would seriously undermine the Internet as an open medium for limitless entrepreneurship and communication.

And while we’re not at SOPA and PIPA protest levels by any means, people are coming up with creative ways to voice their disapproval. [Continue reading...]

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EU court backs ‘right to be forgotten’: Google must amend results on request

The Guardian reports: The top European court has backed the “right to be forgotten” and said Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it.

The test case privacy ruling by the European Union’s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.

Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.

He told the Guardian: “Like anyone would be when you tell them they’re right, I’m happy. I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people’s honour, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that’s not freedom of expression.” [Continue reading...]

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Is Net neutrality dead?

Bill Moyers: If I told you that sovereign powers were about to put a toll booth on the street that leads from your house to the nearest Interstate, allowing your richest neighbors to buy their way to the open road while you were sent to the slow lane, you would no doubt be outraged. Well, prepare to scream bloody murder, because something like that could be happening to the Internet. [Transcript]

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Stop using Microsoft’s IE browser until bug is fixed, U.S. and U.K. warn

If you don’t already use Firefox, it’s probably time to install it.

CNET reports: It’s not often that the US or UK governments weigh in on the browser wars, but a new Internet Explorer vulnerability — one that affects all major versions of the browser from the past decade — has forced them to raise an alarm: Stop using IE.

The zero-day exploit, the term given to a previously unknown, unpatched flaw, allows attackers to install malware on your computer without your permission. That malware could be used to steal personal data, track online behavior, or gain control of the computer. Security firm FireEye, which discovered the bug, said that the flaw is being used with a known Flash-based exploit technique to attack financial and defense organizations in the US via Internet Explorer 9, 10, and 11. Those versions of the browser run on Microsoft’s Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8, although the exploit is present in Internet Explorer 6 and above.

While the Computer Emergency Readiness Team in England and the US regularly issue browser advisories, this is one of the few times that the CERT team has recommended that people avoid using a specific browser. [Continue reading...]

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Former Comcast and Verizon attorneys now manage the FCC and are about to kill the internet

Lee Fang reports: The open Internet may soon become a thing of the past.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal dropped something of a bombshell with leaked news that the Federal Communications Commission is planning to abandon so-called “net neutrality” regulations—rules to ensure that Internet providers are prevented from discriminating based on content. Under the new proposed system, companies such as Comcast or Verizon will be able to create a tiered Internet, in which websites will have to pay more money for faster speeds, a change that observers predict will curb free speech, stifle innovation and increase costs for consumers.

Like so many problems in American government, the policy shift may relate to the pernicious corruption of the revolving door. The FCC is stocked with staffers who have recently worked for Internet Service Providers (ISP) that stand to benefit tremendously from the defeat of net neutrality.

The backgrounds of the new FCC staff have not been reported until now. [Continue reading...]

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