Author: Devin Coldewey

Facebook suspends analytics firm Crimson Hexagon over data use concerns

TECHCRUNCH As part of its ongoing mission to close the barn doors after the cows have got out, Facebook has suspended the accounts of British data analytics firm Crimson Hexagon over concerns that it may be improperly handling user data. The ominously named company has for years used official APIs to siphon public posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sources online, collating and analyzing for various purposes, such as to gauge public opinion on a political candidate or issue. It has clients around the world, serving Russia and Turkey as well as the U.S. and United Kingdom. Facebook, it seems, was not fully aware of the extent of Crimson Hexagon’s use of user data, however, including in several government contracts which it didn’t have the opportunity to evaluate before they took effect. The possibility that the company is not complying with its data use rules, specifically that they may have been helping build surveillance tools, was apparently real enough for Facebook to take action. Perhaps the bar for suspension has been lowered somewhat over the last year, and with good reason. “We are investigating the claims about Crimson Hexagon to see if they violated any of our policies,” said Facebook VP Product Partnerships Ime Archibong in a statement. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the suspension, noted that Crimson Hexagon currently has a contract with FEMA to...

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Now this… this is an ultra-wide monitor

TECHCRUNCH I’ve been working with an ugly but functional lopsided two-monitor setup for years, and while it has served me well, I can’t say the new generation of ultra-wide monitors hasn’t tempted me. But the truth is they just aren’t wide enough. Or rather, they weren’t. Samsung has just blown my mind with a monitor so wide it will serve as a ramp that you can trick off of in the summer. It’s so wide that when it puts on a pair of BVDs they read BOULEVARD. It’s so wide that the Bayeux Tapestry got jealous. Actually it’s a...

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Surprise! Top sites still fail at encouraging non-terrible passwords

TECHCRUNCH You would think that Amazon, Reddit, Wikipedia and other highly popular websites would by now tell you that “password1” or “hunter2” is a terrible password — just terrible. But they don’t. A research project that has kept tabs on the top sites and their password habits for the last 11 years shows that most provide only rudimentary password restrictions and do little to help users. Steven Furnell, of the University of Plymouth, first did a survey of websites’ password practices in 2007, repeating the process in 2011 and 2014 — and then once more this week. His conclusions? It is somewhat disappointing to find that the overall story in 2018 remains largely similar to that of 2007. In the intervening years, much has been written about the failings of passwords and the ways in which we use them, yet little is done to encourage or oblige us to follow the right path. Although the university writeup notes that Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo had the best password practices and Amazon, Reddit, and Wikipedia had the worst, it diplomatically declined to go into specifics. Fortunately, I acquired the paper for myself and am prepared to name and shame. The top 10 unique sites in English (as measured by Alexa; the lineup has changed somewhat over the years) were evaluated: Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, Yahoo, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, Microsoft Live, and Netflix....

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FCC issues ‘de facto merger death sentence’ to Sinclair-Tribune deal

TECHCRUNCH A broadcast merger that has been the poster boy for the FCC’s pro-industry agenda has been ordered to undertake a lengthy and potentially embarrassing process that amounts to, in the words of one commissioner, a “de facto merger death sentence.” The proposed takeover of Tribune by Sinclair has been criticized by many as an unnecessary and potentially dangerous consolidation of media properties. The resulting company would have incredible reach and influence, especially combined with other recent rule changes that have further unshackled big media companies. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has himself been the target of many a sharp inquiry from the public, lawmakers, and even the Office of the Inspector General. The general feeling seems to be: We understand that you have a deregulatory to-do list here, and that’s valid, but practically everything you do benefits Sinclair directly or indirectly. Justify yourself. Whether it was because of this unremitting scrutiny or simply because Sinclair’s merger proposal was blatantly disingenuous, Pai decided to do an about-face and put the brakes on the deal. He announced his intentions earlier this week and today brings the actual “hearing designation order,” which would require Sinclair to appear before a judge in an adversarial courtroom setting and explain its misdeeds. What misdeeds, you ask? Well, the main one cited in the HDO is this: Sinclair was required to divest itself from certain media...

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Now you’re journaling with power! (with this Mario-branded Moleskine gear)

TECHCRUNCH Although this isn’t a stationery news site (how I should like that!), the latest collection from Moleskine is Mario-related, so technically I can write about it. There’s even a phone case and a rolltop backpack! It’s pretty much exactly what you expect: the usual solid Moleskine notebooks with a Nintendo flourish. They’re all Mario-related, but have different styles: a cartridge and Game Boy for the pocket-size notebooks, and stylized NES graphics on the larger ones. Unfortunately there’s no planner (hint hint, Moleskine). “It’s a newstalgic mixture of contemporary technology and timeless paper,” reads the press release. “Nostalgic” already...

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‘Underwater Pokéball’ snatches up soft-bodied deep dwellers

TECHCRUNCH Creatures that live in the depths of the oceans are often extremely fragile, making their collection a difficult affair. A new polyhedral sample collection mechanism acts like an “underwater Pokéball,” allowing scientists to catch ’em all without destroying their soft, squishy bodies in the process. The ball is technically a dodecahedron that closes softly around the creature in front of it. It’s not exactly revolutionary except in that it is extremely simple mechanically — at depths of thousands of feet, the importance of this can’t be overstated — and non-destructive. Sampling is often done via a tube with...

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New law forces Airbnb to open its books to New York authorities

TECHCRUNCH The New York City Council has voted in favor of a new law requiring Airbnb and similar home-share companies to share data on their users. The company has fought the law tooth and nail, but city authorities say it’s basically common sense for the local government to be informed of the number and nature of residents using the service. The law was characterized by the council as one that would “provide the City with an additional tool to enforce the laws against illegal short term rentals.” “This bill is about transparency and bringing accountability to billion-dollar companies who...

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Undercover report shows the Facebook moderation sausage being made

TECHCRUNCH An undercover reporter with the UK’s Channel 4 visited a content moderation outsourcing firm in Dublin and came away rather discouraged at what they saw: queues of flagged content waiting, videos of kids fighting staying online, orders from above not to take action on underage users. It sounds bad, but the truth is there are pretty good reasons for most of it and in the end the report comes off as rather naive. Not that it’s a bad thing for journalists to keep big companies (and their small contractors) honest, but the situations called out by Channel 4’s...

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