Anyone with cell phone or cable service knows that the transfer rates they advertise to get you to sign up (up to 100 Mbps download!) almost never match what you get in the real world. That is why they use those magic words “up to” since it allows them to say to you that they never promised you would get those actual speeds, even if they charge you extra for them.
As this article I ran across today notes, the UK is taking steps to give its citizens some recourse if the speeds they advertised to sign you up for that contract fail to materialize:
Internet users are to be granted more rights on connection speeds as [the UK] imposes tougher rules on how ISPs advertise broadband services.
The proposals give consumers the right to exit contracts penalty-free if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum.
[British government regulator] Ofcom says there is a mismatch between what is advertised, and the speeds customers receive.
But experts say speeds are affected by different factors, and are not strictly a measure of connection to a device.
A public consultation is currently being conducted until 10 November.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of [the consumer advocacy group] Citizens Advice, said: “Many people seek our help each year because their slow and intermittent broadband service falls short of what their contract promised.
“For most people, a reliable broadband connection is a necessity, so when they don’t get what they’ve paid for they should always have a quick and easy way out of their contract.”
She said: “These changes are an important step in giving consumers more power to hold their broadband provider to account for poor service.” Ofcom’s existing broadband code of practice requires ISPs to provide consumers with an estimate of the internet speed they can expect from their service.
If the proposed rules pass consultation, broadband providers will need to be much more specific about the speeds customers will receive and will have to set a guaranteed minimum speed for each package.
This could mean current estimates of “up to 17Mbps” become “a minimum of 10Mbps”.
If the speed falls below the guaranteed minimum, under the new rules, the ISP will have one month to fix the problem, and if it cannot be fixed, the customer can terminate the contract without penalty.
With that simple change — changing the words “up to” to “a minimum of” the ISPs would be forced to account for the actual speeds you get on your service.
So what are the chances of these types of rules being forced on similar companies in America?
In Washington money talks, and the telecoms are in the drivers’ seats on Capitol Hill until we consumers get our act together and decide to hold both parties accountable for the ways they allow cable and cellular companies in this country to saddle Americans with some of the most expensive service in the world for the least amount of reliable bandwidth.
Americans are not the only ones who use the ‘net to live in an information bubble full of tirades which reinforce nationalism and tribalism.
The internet brought Donald Trump to Myanmar. Or, at least that’s how Shar Ya Wai first remembers hearing about the Republican president-elect. “One day, nobody knew him. Then, everyone did. That’s what the internet is. It takes people who say crazy things and makes them famous,” the 19-year-old student said.
Like most people in this country of 50 million, which only recently opened up to the outside world, Shar Ya Wai is new to the internet. And on this day, she had walked purposefully into a phone shop in central Yangon to buy her first smartphone, a simple model by China’s Huawei that is popular among her friends. “Today I’ll buy this phone,” she said. “I guess I’ll find out how crazy [the internet] really is.”
It’s not that she’d never seen the internet before. She’d tried to stalk ex-boyfriends through a friend’s Facebook page and caught glimpses of the latest Thai pop bands on her uncle’s old tablet, which he bought secondhand a year ago. But her forays into the internet have been brief and largely left her perplexed. Here was a public space where everyone seemed to have so much to say, but it was disorganized, bombastic, overwhelming. It felt like the polar opposite of the quiet, sheltered life she’d lived until recently.
“My father is a measured person. He speaks carefully and always wanted us to speak carefully too,” she said, smoothing down her waist-length black hair, betraying her nerves. “I’m more energetic, like my mom. We speak a lot more, but it is nothing like what I see on the internet.”
If you are a journalist/blogger who writes about computer security issues — or really any controversial topic in the human rights, international politics, or similar possibly sensitive arenas — you might start thinking now about what you might do if bad actors in the hacking community try to censor your writing by bringing down your web site.
How might they do that? It’s fairly easy from a technical standpoint, but you don’t even have to know computer code to do it. You can simply hire any number of companies around the world who specialize in DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attacks.
For a fee, these companies will marshal the power of computers around the world which they have hijacked any number of ways in order to have those servers overwhelm your web site servers as all those computer around the world send millions of hits to your site over and over again.
Journalists are no stranger to making enemies bent on retaliation. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to survive that retaliation in internet era… just ask security writer Brian Krebs. An unknown party knocked his website offline last week with a massive distributed denial of service attack (620Gbps of non-stop data) as revenge for exposing two major cyberattack sellers who’ve since been arrested. He’s only back online after taking advantage of Google’s Project Shield, which protects journalists against censorship-oriented denial of service campaigns. His previous anti-DDoS provider, Akamai, had little choice but to drop him — the company tells the Boston Globe that a sustained attack on that level would have cost the company “millions.”
The campaign might not have required an elaborate effort, either. Krebs believes that the attackers took advantage of a botnet made up of hacked Internet of Things devices like DVRs, home internet routers and security cameras, many of which have poor or even unchangeable passwords. A larger attack recently played havoc with a French web host using similar tactics. There’s also the chance that the culprits used spoofing, which magnifies attacks by tricking machines into sending reply messages to the victim.
This might all seem like arcane geek speak to most people, but it is an increasing problem, not least because anyone can do it if they are willing to pay not huge sums of money to bring down web sites of business rivals, companies with whom someone is unhappy, or just that abortion service provider or non-profit agency whose web site and mission offend you. If you write anything controversial on a regular basis, you might be one of the next targets.
What can you do if it happens to you?
First of all, be prepared to have your ISP cancel your account. Defense against these attacks can run into the six figures and you are most likely not that important to their overall business plan.
So you’d better have a backup plan, which includes redundant complete backups of your web sites and its assorted databases. Check with your hosting provider to see that this is done on a regular basis, but you should also consider having a third-party offsite backup of another sort.
Imagine if 20 years ago you gave an interview to a newspaper in which you talked about your battle with bulimia. You did it as a sort of public service, a way to show others you came out victorious at the other end of a long struggle.
Now imagine today that every time you go for a job interview, that article still pops up at the top of every internet search many employers do as part of their pre-employment screening process as you apply for jobs..
That person from two decades ago is not who you are any more. You have not struggled with eating disorders since that time. Nonetheless, in a culture such as ours where employers might be wary of hiring anyone with mental health disorders in their background, that one article haunts you.
This may be the kind of situation the French government has in mind as it fights Google over what kinds of things can and cannot appear in Google’s search results. Part of it hinges on “the right to be forgotten” — the right to have incorrect of even just outdated search results removed from your “record,” so to speak. And not just in France, but worldwide.
Google is battling a demand from a French regulator to remove certain search results globally, warning that doing so would create a dangerous precedent and block users’ access to content that is perfectly legal where they live.
On Thursday, the Californian tech giant announced that it is appealing an order from regulator CNIL in France’s top court, which wants Google to apply the “right to be forgotten” worldwide.
The right to be forgotten stems from a controversial 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice, and allows European citizens to appeal to have links removed from search results under certain circumstances (if it’s outdated or irrelevant, say) — even if the information is factually accurate.
However, it only applies within Europe. A French citizen could successfully appeal to Google to have links to websites about them removed from search results seen by people browsing Google from France. But someone living in America who searched for their name would see the full uncensored search results. That’s what CNIL wants to change.
It wants successful right to be forgotten applications to be applied across the globe to properly protect citizens’ privacy. Google has fired back with a strongly worded opinion column in French newspaper Le Monde on Thursday written by global general counsel Kent Walker, which it has also shared — in English — on its European policy blog. It attacks CNIL on two fronts: jurisdiction, and precedent. First, Walker argues that France doesn’t have the right to demand these kind of global changes. “For hundreds of years, it has been an accepted rule of law that one country should not have the right to impose its rules on the citizens of other countries.
As a result, information that is illegal in one country can be perfectly legal in others.” The Google SVP also asks what kind of precedent CNIL’s demands would set if successful. “If French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries — perhaps less open and democratic — start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach? This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country,” Walker writes.
A total nonsense headline. Of course one article won’t change reading habits. But suggesting that it might, even if you know that is BS, is enough to get many to fall victim to clickbait even if we hate it.
Welcome to the world of clickbait. We know what it is. We know how to recognize it. We might even collectively despise it. But we are, on some fundamental levels of how humans process information and emotions, helpless against its allure.
In my city one of the worst purveyors of clickbait is TimeOut Chicago. The site itself is fine, one of a number of city sites under the TimeOut brand — a collection of information for locals and tourists about news, events, bars and nightclubs, restaurants and miscellania for whatever city in which you happen to find yourself.
The person who writes TimeOut headlines used to annoy the hell out of me because anything and everything was always at its extreme. Take the recent headline “Frighteningly apocalyptic scenes from Chicago’s tornado warning,” referring to an event that happened last summer when, admittedly, there were some pretty dramatic cloud formation events surrounding serious storms during which the CTA bus in which I was riding was swamped by sudden flooding and we had some tornado activity in the suburbs.
Now I’m not exactly certain what an “apocalyptic” scene in Chicago is going to look like when and if it happens. I’m pretty sure it would be wet-your-pants scary. We’re talking crumbling buildings and infrastructure, bodies in the streets, looting and rioting, martial law and so on.
It sure as hell is not only going to be a bunch of fast-moving storm clouds. What a stupid headline! Dumb asses! Who would be stupid enough to fall for such a thing?
Of course I clicked on it.
The fact is I wanted to be annoyed. The ploy can work both on people who want to see the possibly apocalyptic scenes and people like me who just want to see how big the lie really is.
Such is the nature of clickbait, as this very interesting article — no, the most interesting article on clickbait EVER! — from the current issue of Wired explains:
Clickbait doesn’t just happen on its own. Editors write headlines in an effort to manipulate you—or at least grab your attention—and always have. “Headless Body In Topless Bar,” and “Sticks Nix Hick Pix” wouldn’t exist if publications didn’t care about attracting eyeballs. The difference with clickbait is you’re often aware of this manipulation, and yet helpless to resist it. It’s at once obvious in its bait-iness, and somehow still effective bait.
This has a lot to do with emotion and the role it plays in our daily decision-making processes, says Jonah Berger, who studies social influence and contagion at the University of Pennsylvania. Emotional arousal, or the degree of physical response you have to an emotion, is a key ingredient in clicking behaviors. Sadness and anger, for example, are negative emotions, but anger is much more potent. “It drives us, fires us up, and compels us to take action,” Berger says. If you’ve ever found yourself falling for outrage clickbait or spent time hate-reading and hate-watching something, you know what Berger is talking about. “Anger, anxiety, humor, excitement, inspiration, surprise—all of these are punchy emotions that clickbait headlines rely on,” he says.
A growing body of research supports this idea. In a recent paper called “Breaking the News: First Impressions Matter On Online News,” two researchers looked at 69,907 headlines produced by four international media outlets in 2014. After analyzing the sentiment polarity of these headlines (whether the primary emotion conveyed was positive, negative, or neutral), they found “an extreme sentiment score obtained the largest mean popularity.” This not only suggests that strongly negative or strongly positive news tends to attract more readers, they concluded, but also that “a headline has more chance to [receive clicks] if the sentiment expressed in its text is extreme, towards the positive or the negative side.”
There is no denying the allure of clickbait, even on an anecdotal level. I’ve experimented with this blog by writing headlines that are in the normal understated style of the former newspaper editor that I am, and then re-writing in a headline style that blatantly oversells both what they article says and what it does not say. Overstated wins by a landslide.
That latter part of that is important: What does a clickbait headline take pains to not say yet still put the notion out there? As newspaper editor Andrew Marr noted in his 2004 book My Trade, sometimes being a good consumer of online information means looking just beneath the surface at key indicators that what you are reading might be clickbait:
“If the headline asks a question, try answering ‘no’. Is This the True Face of Britain’s Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No; or you wouldn’t have put the question mark in.) Does This Map Provide the Key for Peace? (Probably not.) A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting into a national controversy and, preferably, a national panic. To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means ‘don’t bother reading this bit’.”
Knowing all this is one thing. Doing something about it when you are doing what we all do every day — just reading for fun or to pass the time — is another.
The more I’ve learned about the psychology of clickbait, the more I realize that, if your goal is just to get more eyes on a page, it makes sense to use it — the sanctity and nuance of language be damned. Numbers don’t lie.
The question of whether content is king is still up for grabs, however. I might fall victim to clickbait, but if the articles themselves are not worth my time I see no reason to be a regular reader.
What all this has done is to help me make some modicum of peace with clickbait. It used to drive me crazy. Now I’m more likely to look at it from a distance and think, very often, “Wow. That is some really excellent clickbait.”
It appears to be a sad fact of life: American household consumers are stuck with crappy internet speeds and customer service because of the stranglehold that Comcast, AT&T, Sprint and the rest have over the marketplace.
When Google Fiber first launched in 2012, many analysts (myself included) believed that while cool, Google Fiber was little more than a clever PR experiment. Having cities throw themselves at Google for $70, gigabit connections created wonderful PR fodder in papers nationwide, in the process drawing attention to the lack of broadband competition and spurring incumbent ISPs to action. But Google was never going to really follow through on the promise of better competition, and would probably get bored in a few years. After all, it would cost way too much to actually deliver competition on any scale, right?
But as the list of looming Google Fiber markets grows, Google Fiber is looking less like an unserious experiment and more like a wholesale telecom revolution, albeit one that’s taking its time. Sure, Google Fiber is only available in portions of Provo, Austin and Kansas City now — but the company’s currently building networks in some major urban sprawl-scapes including Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Raligh/Durham, and Charlotte. The company also recently unveiled (or is rumored to soon announce) expansions into Portland, San Diego, Irvine, Phoenix, San Jose, and Louisville.
This week, Google said it’s also working with Oklahoma City, Jacksonville and Tampa to pave the way for gigabit speeds sometime in the next few years. And whereas many incumbent ISPs and sector analysts used to laugh off Google Fiber as an empty threat (one called it “over-hyped like Ebola“), lately they’ve been changing their tune. A recent study by Bernstein Research noted that while Google Fiber only currently has an estimated 100,000 or so subscribers, it has real potential to be a concrete, disruptive force over the next five to ten years.
Quora is a web site where people ask public questions about issues ranging from the personal to the technical, including topics ranging from job interviews to which is the best programming language for beginning coders to learn.
My Apple Time Capsule was accidentally unplugged this morning. When I plugged it back into the power strip, no green or amber lights. Not showing up on my home network. Nothing.
Panic time. This is my backup drive and archive drive. I can replace the backups, no big deal. All the information would just be replaced. But I also started using using it to archive photos, videos and many years’ worth of other personal files for which I no longer have room on my laptop drive.
I’ve been meaning to attach an external drive to the USB port to back up the archives. You know how that goes. I can get to it tomorrow.
This is despite the fact that I knew that many models of Time Capsules were prone to power supply failure at around 16-18 months because Apple decided to not put any cooling ports on a hard drive enclosure. So the intermittent cooling fan in the Time Capsules, when it comes on at all, simply blows hot air around the inside of the enclosure.
This is a recipe for power supply failure, which Apple will not fix outside of warranty. Which is true of my 16-month-old Time Capsule. But at least a power supply problem could be fixed by a third-party vendor if I was willing to shell out the bucks.
But my problem was different. I can hear the drive spinning inside the device. There were just no power or indicator lights. My power supply is working.
Searching a bit more on Google I found a post that suggested an odd solution: Wrap my Time Capsule in aluminum foil and bake it at 350 degrees for seven minutes.
Why do that?
Apparently my model year of Time Capsule has a soldered connection that is prone to coming loose. This is a problem that people who take them apart and fix them have discovered.
Allegedly if you bake your Time Capsule, this will soften the solder enough to reconnect the bad connection.
What choice did I have? I don’t have the extra funds to fix it right now, nor the money to replace it.
So I baked the sucker.
It worked. (Handle gently until it — and any softened solder inside — cools.)
Never underestimate the usefulness of the geek hive mind.
(After having been the target of frivolous lawsuits (twice) the litigious little voice that lives inside my head now needs to point out that I am not an expert on Apple peripherals, I do not represent in any way that this fix will work for you, watch out the drive and oven will be hot, and don’t forget to wear oven mitts.)
The Ashley Madison hack has revealed a lot of interesting things about the men who used the extramarital-dating site, including which cities, states, and universities they’re from.
But what about the women?
It turns out, there may not have been very many women. As in, almost none.
Gizmodo editor-in-chief Annalee Newitz analyzed the data from the site’s user database and found a lot of suspicious stuff suggesting that nearly all the female accounts were fake, maintained by the company’s employees.
First, the official numbers. The info that the hackers published contained about 31 million accounts apparently belonging to men, and about 5 million apparently belonging to women.
But when Newitz dug deeper, she found a bunch of test accounts that ended with ashleymadison.com, suggesting that they were created internally (90% of them were for women), as well as 350 female accounts for people with the same and very unusual last name.
I’ve seen higher women-to-men ratios at big gay dance parties.
I still think this hack was an egregious invasion of privacy, but it does represent a certain kind of cosmic justice to think that Josh Duggar was online with his pregnant wife in the next room, while he is desperately sending emails to dummy accounts and chatting online mostly with gay guys with straight guy fetishes.