By timothy from Slashdot's applied-semantics department
Facebook's recently disclosed 2012 experiment in altering the tone of what its users saw
in their newsfeeds has brought it plenty of negative opinions to chew on. Here's one, pointed out by an anonymous reader: Facebook's methodology raises serious ethical questions. The team may have bent research standards too far, possibly overstepping criteria enshrined in federal law and human rights declarations. "If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that's experimentation," says James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland. "This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent."
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By timothy from Slashdot's all-voice-calls-should-be-encrypted department
Ars Technica has spent some time with pre-production (but very nearly final) samples of the Blackphone, from Geeksphone and Silent Circle. They give it generally high marks
; the hardware is mostly solid but not cutting edge, but the software it comes with distinguishes it from run-of-the-mill Android phones. Though it's based on Android, the PrivOS system in these phone offers fine grained permissions, and other software included with the phone makes it more secure both if someone has physical access to the phone (by encrypting files, among other things) and if communications between this phone and another are being eavesdropped on. A small taste: At first start up, Blackphone’s configuration wizard walks through getting the phone configured and secured. After picking a language and setting a password or PIN to unlock the phone itself, the wizard presents the option of encrypting the phone’s stored data with another password. If you decline to encrypt the phone’s mini-SD storage during setup, you’ll get the opportunity later (and in the release candidate version of the PrivOS we used, the phone continued to remind me about that opportunity each time I logged into it until I did).
PrivOS’ main innovation is its Security Center, an interface that allows the user to explicitly control just what bits of hardware functionality and data each application on the phone has access to. It even provides control over the system-level applications—you can, if you wish for some reason, turn off the Camera app’s access to the camera hardware and turn off the Browser app’s access to networks.Read Replies (0)
By timothy from Slashdot's rand-can't-help-seeming-creepy department
New submitter redr00k (3719103)
writes with a link to the summary of a RAND Corporation study
addressing "a general perception that there is a shortage of cybersecurity professionals within the United States, and a particular shortage of these professionals within the federal government, working on national security as well as intelligence. Shortages of this nature complicate securing the nation's networks and may leave the United States ill-prepared to carry out conflict in cyberspace." One of the key findings: waive the Civil Service rules.
(The NSA can already bypass those rules; RAND's authors say this should be extended to other agencies.)Read Replies (0)
By timothy from Slashdot's off-the-shelf department
Last week at Google I/O, the company introduced Cardboard
, its cheap-and-cheerful (it's made of cardboard, after all) approach to nearly instant VR viewing. It's no Oculus Rift — lacking the Rift's connection to a powerful backend PC, it can't do the same heavy lifting. In fact, it looks sort of like a prank, and the announcement at I/O that everyone at the conference would be getting "a piece of cardboard" drew a lot of chuckles. Gigaom argues that it's nonetheless extremely valuable, because it makes immersive viewing easy and cheap
for anyone with fairly capable smartphone — a pretty satisfying experience in itself, and a good taste of what even higher-end viewers can bring. An anonymous reader writes, "In addition to the Cardboard app," writes an anonymous reader, "Google has pushed out an updated version of Google Maps which includes a VR mode for Street View
." And if you weren't blessed with an I/O pass, and aren't sure about your skills cutting one out of a pizza box, note that you can buy a kit for about $25
, including the RF tag that will tell a phone to fire up the Cardboard app. (The linked article says an aluminum version is in the works from at least one company; I'd like to see one in corrugated plastic — strong but light — and with connection points for a headstrap.) If you've made something similar (or would like to), what would you improve in the design or feature set? (Look soon for a video introduction to Cardboard with Google VP Clay Bavor, too.)Read Replies (0)
By timothy from Slashdot's beats-the-top-stories-option-at-least department
The Atlantic reports that two years ago, Facebook briefly conducted an experiment on a subset of its users
, altering the mix of content shown to them to emphasize content sorted by tone, negative or positive, and observe the results. From the Atlantic article: For one week in January 2012, data scientists skewed what almost 700,000 Facebook users saw when they logged into its service. Some people were shown content with a preponderance of happy and positive words; some were shown content analyzed as sadder than average. And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative words themselves.
This tinkering was just revealed as part of a new study, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many previous studies have used Facebook data to examine “emotional contagion,” as this one did. This study is different because, while other studies have observed Facebook user data, this one set out to manipulate it.
At least they showed their work
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By timothy from Slashdot's splashdown-harder-on-mars department
As reported by the Associated Press, via the Washington Post, an update on the promised (and now at least mostly successful) new disc-shaped craft and parachute technology
intended for a NASA mission to Mars, though applicable to other space missions as well: A saucer-shaped NASA vehicle launched by balloon high into Earth’s atmosphere splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, completing a successful test on Saturday of technology that could be used to land on Mars. Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere. The $150 million experimental flight tested a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. Despite small problems like the giant parachute not deploying fully, NASA deemed the mission a success. ... [T]he parachute unfurled — if only partially — and guided the vehicle to an ocean splashdown about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011. Coatta said engineers won’t look at the parachute problem as a failure, but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests. ... A ship was sent to recover a “black box” designed to separate from the vehicle and float. Outfitted with a GPS beacon, the box contains the crucial flight data that scientists are eager to analyze. “That’s really the treasure trove of all the details,” Coatta said. “Pressure, temperature, force. High-definition video. All those measurements that are really key to us to understanding exactly what happens throughout this test."Read Replies (0)