Major League Baseball Hacking Incident

According to the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, a Minnesota man has been charged with hacking Major League Baseball’s computer systems and trying to extort $150,000 from them.

According to court documents, 30 year old Joshua Streit sent emails to an MLB executive threatening to publicize the vulnerability he discovered and used to access the website the MLB uses from streaming live games before asking for the $150,000.

Allegedly Streit renewed his extortion attempt in September, when the MLB was under increased stress building up to upcoming playoff season.

Many news outlets contacted a Twitter accounted listed in the criminal complaint as being Streit’s, but the account has not yet responded to any requests for comments. James Beckcer, the attorney listed as Streit’s in court documents as also not responded to requests for comments.

The charges listed against Streit, aka Josh Brody, include illegally hacking a computer to commit fraud, wire fraud and sending threats over state lines with the intent to extort. Streit/Brody could face anywhere from 2-20 years in prison for each charge.

Robots in the Ocean

For much of human history we have explored and lived in some of the most extreme environments on the planet—mountains, jungles, deserts. However, the largest environment on Earth composing 70% of the Earth’s surface, the ocean largely remains a mystery to us.

Only about 20% of the ocean bed has been mapped.

A fuller picture of the ocean would bring many benefits including safer navigating ships, creating more accurate climate models, laying new telecommunication cables, the building of offshore windfarms and of course protecting marine species.

Many refer to this as the “blue economy” and it could be worth an astonishing $3 trillion by 2030.

While underwater robotic vehicles equipped with various equipment have been in service for quite a while and have increased the amount of data we collect and at a lower cost, many of these robots rely on batteries and have to return to the shore or a boat to recharge making it impossible for them to ever map the most remote parts of the ocean.

Yi Chao’s Seatrec startup is working on solving this challenge by channeling the natural temperature differences in ocean waters.

Snapchat Gets Safer

Snapchat is set to roll out a what some are calling a “buddy system” feature that will let users share their location with a friend for a time.

The safety feature comes as young people return to campuses, traveling, dating and perhaps going back to work in the office, according to Snapchat. The feature is not unlike Apple’s Find My app which allows users to share their phone’s location in real time with friends for varying, pre-determined amounts of time (from 15 minutes, 1 hour or even 8 hours). Snapchat found a partner in It’s On Us which is a nonprofit created in 2014 whose goal was to combat sexual assault on campuses.

Snapchat, since 2017, has let users share their location with Snap Map, however a user’s location only updates when the app is open. Snapchat claimed that 250 million people use Snap Map each month. In May 2021 Snapchat had 500 million monthly active users. An internal survey revealed that 78% of users had no problem using Snap Map to share their location with friends as a safe way to connect with other people.

Like Snap Map, the new safety feature is not turned on by default but can easily be found by users. Smartly, Snapchat has limited with whom and how long users can share their instant location to reduce the risk of the feature being used for stalking.

Demand for Airbnb Bookings Up Despite Inflation

Despite inflation and high gas prices demand for Airbnb bookings keep going up.

Airbnb stated that in three months, ending in Jun, they had 103.7 million bookings on its platform. This was a new quarterly high for the company, a 24% increase from the same quarter in 2019 before the business was devastated by the pandemic.

With this extreme increase in bookings Airbnb showed a revenue of $2.1 billion. This is up 58% compared to the prior year. Airbnb has reported a net income of $379 million, which is its most profitable June quarter to date.

The company also benefited from higher average daily rates for its vacation property listings. The $164 average daily rate for a vacation rental was down slightly compared to the first three months of this year but are up 40% when compared to the same quarter in 2019. Airbnb noted that its rates in high population density urban areas, which typically snatch higher daily rates, not only increased compared to early in the year but also in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.

Despite these increases, Airbnb stock went down by 4% in after-hours trading follow the release of these results.

 

 

 

TikTok Lawsuit

Former TikTok content moderators have hit the social media platform with another lawsuit in which they are claiming damages because the job traumatized them.

Ashley Velez and Reece Young are the former contract-based content mods suing TikTok. They allege that their work required them to few unedited, unfiltered content they described as “disgusting and offensive.” They further described it as sexual and violent but used more explicit terms. The plaintiffs allege that TikTok and parent company ByteDance failed to protect moderators from harm and that they provided no support after moderators reviewed shocking content.

The complaint continued by noting that the companies required content moderators to review high volumes of disturbing content which constitutes requiring moderators to participate in unusually dangerous activities. Furthermore, the companies failed to implement widely accepted best practices to mitigate risks that are a natural part of such work.

This is the second such lawsuit in which TikTok was accused of not supporting its content moderators after viewing disturbing content.

Snapchat Gives Parents Tools to Protect Teens

Social media platform Snapchat, after a 10-month old promise from the company to Congress, has developed tools that are supposed to help parents keep their teens safe while they use the app.

The new tool is called Family Center. It promises to give parents additional information about who their teens are chatting with on the messaging app but will not divulge the content of those conversations. Currently, parents have to create their own Snapchat account and their teens have to opt-in and give permission to their parent’s account to use the feature.

According to Snapchat, Family Center was created to emulate the way that parents engage with their children in the real world. In which, parents typically know who their teens are friends with, when they are hanging out, but don’t listen in on their teens private conversations.

After the Facebook-whistleblower incident last fall, social media companies like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram were intensely questioned by Congress about steps they would take to protect teens using their platforms.

 

 

To “Like” or Not to “Like”

In a surprising move both Instagram and Facebook will be giving all users the ability to hide the number of “likes” or “reactions” a post gets from the public. This will change a keystone of the platforms as “likes” are seen as social currency on social media, a measure of status and influence.

Facebook has been experimenting with the idea since 2019 and the company sees it as a way to make Facebook and Instagram less stressful or anxiety-inducing to use.

Every user can choose whether people can see the number of likes on their own posts and also whether to see how many people liked other users’ posts, according to a blog post by Facebook.

The social media giant has been working to reverse mounting disapproval about the fact that social media platforms can be harmful to the mental health of its users and society at large. However, users have to choose the option, it will not be a default, so it remains unclear how many users will take this step or how much the platforms will really change because of the new option.

Meta’s Facebook Develops New AI

If you frequent Facebook or other online platforms you know conversations can get out of hand quickly. Facebook is hoping to use an AI program to keep things calm. The social media platform is testing a machine learning program that would detect fights in Facebook’s Groups and report it to the group admins so they can intervene.

Facebook will be rolling out a number of new tools to help the 70 million users who run and moderate groups on the social media platform. Facebook has 2.85 billion monthly users, 1.8 billion participate in groups each month and there are tens of millions of active groups on the platform.

Along with these other tools, AI will decide when to send out a “conflict alert” to those admins and moderators who maintain groups on the platform. When the AI finds a conversation to be “unhealthy” or “contentious” the AI will send out a message and the human administrators of the group can decide from there what to do.

Social media platforms have increasingly relied on AI to filter what users see and to help remove hate speech from their platforms. However, AI has not always treated users fairly when left to its own devices. So, Facebook is hoping this new combination an AI watch dog and allowing the human administrators of the group to make final decisions will be a more fair way to handle things.

Is My ISP Delivering the Speed I Pay for?

Are there times when you aren’t sure you are getting the speed from your ISP that you pay for? Running a simple test on your computer will tell you. First you need to know that the speed you receive via a computer connected through an ethernet cable may be closer to what your ISP says you have and connections through Wi-Fi will be lower.

Why would you need to do these tests? Well if you are streaming and run into a lot of buffering problems or connection problems, you might want to take a look at your speeds. Are others in your household doing things that require more bandwidth such as streaming or gaming?

An internet search will reveal popular ISP speed testers.

TikTok Clocks Big Numbers

TikTok, a short video based social media platform, has reached the tech world milestone of one billion monthly active users—what is, perhaps, more impressive is they are a rare platform to achieve the one billion user status that is not owned by Google or Facebook.

This growth came from both social media consumers spending more time online during the pandemic and more consumers becoming creators looking to make a living from content creation over social media.

The growth happened despite many hurdles. Among those was former president Donald Trump’s failed attempt to ban the Chinese-owned app in the U.S. Others include the app being banned in India and facing inquiry from European regulators over children’s safety as well as their data protection practices.

Artificial Art?

Artificial intelligence has been a part of science fiction for years and has often been portrayed as anywhere from troubling to outright evil.

AI is not commonly associated with things like art and poetry, but that is the purpose of the very realistic human-like robot, Ai-Da, invented by Aidan Meller in Oxford, England. She spends her time creating poetry and visual art. She is the worlds first robot of her kind and publicly performed some of her poetry that she wrote using her AI. The poetry was in celebration of famous Italian poet Dante.

Ai-Da performed her poetry recital at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University as part of an exhibition marking Dante’s 700th death anniversary.

Ai-Da’s poem was a response to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Ai-Da’s AI analyzed Dante’s writing patterns and vocabulary but also her own databank of words—between the two her AI created the final product.

Ai-Da’s creator, Meller, stated that her ability to imitate human writing is so incredible it is hard to know it wasn’t written by a human.

Ai-Da doesn’t only write poetry, she also is very capable of creating works of art. She made one of the Dante exhibition. It was inspired by her own experience in Egypt when security forces detained Ai-Da and Meller over security concerns over the cameras in her eyes, which they wanted to remove. The piece is titled “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Apple to Raise Base Pay for Employees

Due to the tight labor market, rising inflation and burst in unionization efforts Apple will be raising the starting pay for US employees.

Starting pay for US Apple team members will be increased to $22 or higher based on the cost of living in the market. This is a 45% jump from 2018 pay levels. Apple stated that their compensation budget will be a topic at their annual performance review process.

Apple stated that workers annual reviews would be pushed up by three months so their new pay will take effect by early July.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests from media outlets for further information on their compensation increases. Apple is well known for having a tight-lipped culture among its employees. Yet, in 2021, a handful of both current and former employees criticized Apple’s working conditions through online outlets.

In April, Apple workers in Atlanta submitted a petition to hold union elections. They would have been the company’s first union. This was just one among many moves for unionization in Apple at the time.

 

 

Children, Parents and Teachers Unaware of Educational Apps Collecting Data on Children

A new report has found that millions of students had their personal data collected and online behaviors tracked by websites, applications and other educational programs. The programs did not have the student-users’ consent and in some cases allow third-party companies like advertisers access to the data.

International advocacy organization Human Rights Watch published their findings from an investigation they completed between March 2021 and August 2021. The investigation examined educational services that students, world-wide, used when learning went all online.

Human Rights Watch investigated 164 products used in 49 countries. They found 146 of them (89%) appeared to be engaging in data practices that infringed or even risked children’s rights. These practices included activity like monitoring or monitoring children without the students ‘or parents’ consent, the collected a range of personal data like identity, location, online activity and behavior and even information about family and friends.

HRW stated that children, parents and teachers were largely unaware of the risky behavior. However, they wanted to emphasize that even if anyone had been aware they likely would have had little choice but to use the apps as it was either log-on or be marked absent.

Ringo Starr Auctions NFT Collection

Beatle’s drummer Ringo Starr is auctioning some of his NFT collection for charity.

Julien’s Auctions announced the exclusive auction offering one-of-a-kind digital art works with their sibling canvas print signed by the artist. Starr is the first of the Beatles to offer such a piece to the public.

Some of the proceeds will benefit the NPO The Lotus Foundation who supports charitable projects that look to advance the social welfare of diverse areas like cancer, homelessness and animals in need among other social causes.

The auction will include five original art pieces created by Starr. These included two paintings, one-self portrait and two multimedia works. Each of the works also includes its own audio recording of Starr performing a piece of the drums inspired by the artworks.

Owing one of the NFT artworks also provides the owner access to Starr’s virtual tour and digital gallery experience called RingoLand. All winning bidders are also invited to join Starr in a online hangout created by Spatial.io.

The starting bid for each NFT is $1,000.

 

Telegram a Hotbed of Russia-Ukraine Online Action

Telegram, the encrypted messaging app, has become the digital front line of the Russia-Ukraine war cybersecurity researchers report.

Check Point Research (CPR) reported that Telegram has become a hub of misinformation—as the app allows users to participate in group conversations and send direct messages which have end-to-end encryption.

All over the world, CPR observed, people are organizing themselves and their resources to support either Russia or Ukraine. Some groups are organizing cyberattacks on Russia others are turning themselves into news hubs to report citizen journalism featuring raw experiences from the war.

Since the first day of the war Telegram activity about the Russia-Ukraine conflict has increased dramatically. CPR warns Telegram users to increase their vigilance as users from either side of the conflict may try to scam or otherwise take advantage of average users.

Some unrelated scam artists are preying on people’s emotions and asking for funds to help both sides, when in reality it is one hundred percent a scam.

Some Gentle Reminders About Passwords

We’ve talked about passwords before and yet it is such an important thing because of all the security breaches we see. Some people say they don’t have anything that important protected behind a password, so it doesn’t matter. Or they say they need to use the same password for everything.

This is an unsafe practice and a dangerous attitude to have about passwords and your personal data.

Think about all your accounts where you have purchased items, or your banking or credit card accounts. Do you really want to use the same password for everything? Once they breach one account, say your email, they can look through that to find what other accounts you are subscribed to and have a field day. This is even how identities are stolen.

Using the service LastPass is one of the best ways to secure your accounts. Once you download LastPass, set it up with a hard to hack easy to remember password. An unusual set of simple words and an attached string of numbers that is also easy to remember is a good place to start. You can then import all the passwords saved to your browsers. Once you have LastPass you can also run a kind of audit check for recommendations on which passwords to change – it will show you duplicates or not so secure passwords you already have.

A Week Late: Happy Pi Day

Pi Day is coming up this week. The date is 3/14 and happens every year. Some places even offer Pi Day deals. People celebrate it in various ways. Maybe they will make a pie with the pi symbol on top; perhaps they will go out for pizza pie; maybe even participate in pie throwing contests.

Pi Day was founded in 1988 by Larry Shaw, a physicist. Why 3/14? Well, duh – Pi is approximately 3.14159… It also happens that it is the birthday of Albert Einstein. Pi is a number that is used in calculating the circumference of a circle.

Buying a Graduate a Laptop? Common Myths Busted Part 2

Many graduating seniors will be receiving laptops as graduation gifts before going off to college. Here are some “myths” about laptops and some other items to consider before selecting the best laptop in your price range.

Myth: More RAM will always speed up your PC.

Facts: It doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t always help. For basic usage (Microsoft Office, web browsing, streaming, social media and email) 8 to 16 gigs of RAM will likely be plenty. Special applications for graphic design, video or audio editing may require more.

Mac (Apple) vs. PC (Windows)

The average student probably doesn’t need an expensive Mac Book Pro or other Mac laptop. Those going into graphic design, audio or video fields may want to invest in one however. Consumers should also know that much of the popular software in these fields now runs on PC (Windows) and there are many fine high-end PCs that compete with Mac laptops for power and speed. Students with special computing needs should consult with an advisor in their program before buying a computer.

Tablets/iPads

These days a table or hybrid is a real option that many students may prefer for portability and cost. Google tools like Google Docs as well as Microsoft 365 both run on iOS, Android and Windows tablets and hybrids. These tablets will also run all your student’s social media and streaming apps. Bluetooth keyboards and keyboard cases are available to make the devices easier to use for schoolwork.

Buying a Graduate a Laptop? Common Myths Busted Part 1

Many graduating seniors will be receiving laptops as graduation gifts before going off to college. Here are some “myths” about laptops and some other items to consider before selecting the best laptop in your price range.

Myth: A CPU with more cores is always faster.

Facts: Each “core” in a multicore processor allows the computer to better allocate its processing power to multiple applications or processes running at once. If one is only running one program at a time more “cores” won’t increase the power or speed of the computer. For basic usage, a faster CPU with less cores is probably preferable.

Myth: You always want the fastest CPU and graphics card you can afford.

Facts: Fast CPUs and power graphics cards will run hotter and run down a laptop battery faster. For many students, longer battery life will probably be more important than having the fastest computer. Unless the student is a gamer or using specialty software that requires more resources like a graphics card or a powerful CPU, buying a laptop with the most powerful components may be a waste of money that could be spent on an extended warranty or other necessities.

Mac (Apple) vs. PC (Windows)

The average student probably doesn’t need an expensive Mac Book Pro or other Mac laptop. Those going into graphic design, audio or video fields may want to invest in one however. Consumers should also know that much of the popular software in these fields now runs on PC (Windows) and there are many fine high-end PCs that compete with Mac laptops for power and speed. Students with special computing needs should consult with an advisor in their program before buying a computer.

Tablets/iPads

These days a table or hybrid is a real option that many students may prefer for portability and cost. Google tools like Google Docs as well as Microsoft 365 both run on iOS, Android and Windows tablets and hybrids. These tablets will also run all your student’s social media and streaming apps. Bluetooth keyboards and keyboard cases are available to make the devices easier to use for schoolwork.

How Deepfakes Might Change the World (Pt. 2)

The other concern experts have about deepfakes, AI generated videos that can look and sound very real, is the speed at which their realism is increasing as evidenced by the viral videos of a deepfaked Tom Cruise covering Dave Matthews Band songs and doing coin flips. These demonstrated the increasing realism of these generated video and audio files.

Neither the Zelensky or Putin videos came close to the quality of Tom Cruise TikTok video. However, currently, one tactic to hide flaws is to use a purposefully low-quality video resolution like that which was used in the Zelensky and Putin videos.

Even if a deepfake is of low quality each one and each increase in quality blurs the line between fact and fiction online, according to experts. Many believe that even a bad deepfake can accomplish the task of planting doubt and obscuring the truth.

Some believe we could cross a line and on the other side is a world in which truth will no longer exist. These experts believe that when you can no longer believe anything you see everything becomes fake. It is not that everything will become true, but one loses confidence in everything. The truth becomes irrelevant in a sea of falsehoods.

Deepfakes Bring Psychological Warfare to the Ukraine (Pt. 1)

Amid the first weeks of Russia’s war in the Ukraine a video of Volodymyr Zelensky surfaced online. He wore a dark green shirt, spoke with purpose and was standing behind a white presidential podium adorned with the Ukraine coat of arms. His body held nearly still while his head and face were quite animated while he spoke.

Part of the speech in the video was as follows. “I ask you to lay down your weapons and go back to your families. This war is not worth dying for. I suggest you to keep on living, and I am going to do the same.”

The video was quickly identified as a “deepfake” – a realistic computer generated video.

Just five years ago deepfakes were not part of the common consciousness. The false but persuasive video and/or audio files are generated with the help of artificial intelligence. Worryingly and unsurprisingly they are now being employed to try to impact the outcome of a war. And it wasn’t just the Zelensky video, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin also went viral. In the video the faux-Putin was declaring peace with the Ukraine.

Experts in propaganda, disinformation and authentication have long worried that deepfakes would be used to sew lies and chaos throughout society. As deepfakes become more realistic the potential for influence and damage increases exponentially.

TikTok Hit With Second Lawsuit Alleging Content Moderator Neglect

Former TikTok content moderators have hit the social media platform with another lawsuit in which they are claiming damages because the job traumatized them.

Ashley Velez and Reece Young are the former contract-based content mods suing TikTok. They allege that their work required them to few unedited, unfiltered content they described as “disgusting and offensive.” They further described it as sexual and violent but used more explicit terms. The plaintiffs allege that TikTok and parent company ByteDance failed to protect moderators from harm and that they provided no support after moderators reviewed shocking content.

The complaint continued by noting that the companies required content moderators to review high volumes of disturbing content which constitutes requiring moderators to participate in unusually dangerous activities. Furthermore, the companies failed to implement widely accepted best practices to mitigate risks that are a natural part of such work.

This is the second such lawsuit in which TikTok was accused of not supporting its content moderators after viewing disturbing content.

 

 

GIF Creator Stephen Wilhite Dies at 74 Years Old

Many of your favorite animated memes, spread all over the internet and social media by millions of users every day, are a specific file type called a GIF (with some controversy over how to pronounce the now colloquial term…gif or jif) are due to the work of Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of the GIF.

The looping, animated images have become a universal language in which we can speak to one another without words. While Wilhite likely didn’t realize what his creation would become in 1987 but the GIF would be a route by which to transmit viral ideas from the days of Web 1.0 to the present day and will likely continue to transmit viral content for years to come.

Wilhite’s wife stated that he’d suffered a stroke a few years ago which weakened his right lung and he die from complications of Covid-19. Whilhite was 74 years old.

In the 1980s Wilhite was a developer for popular ISP CompuServe. His team was tasked with overcoming a tangled web of obstacles including then slow dial-up speeds, color image files that were too large to send over the fledgling internet and incompatible computer systems.

Finally in 1987 Wilhite discovered a way in which to compress images so the maintained their sharpness, would load quickly and could be displayed on any computer despite what system it was running. This was the GIF or Graphics Interchange Format.

The first ever GIF was a clip of an airplane soaring through a pixel sky.

 

 

 

 

Instagram Bringing Back Algorithm-Free Feeds

Popular social media platform Instagram is bringing back an old feature: the ability to organize one’s timeline in reverse chronological order rather than according to the whims of the platform’s algorithms. Instagram stated that the default sorting method would be the algorithm method.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri teased the feature last year during a Senate hearing on the effect of social media on teens. During the hearing the mention of the feature seemed to be in regards to addressing the issue that algorithms will sometimes drive teens towards harmful content that affects their mental health.

Instagram stated that users will be able to select from two new post display methods on their feeds. Long time social media users will recognize is a “following tool” which displays posts from the accounts the user follows in the order in which they were shared.

There will also be a “favorites” method of post display that shows the latest post from a list of specific accounts created by the user that might consist of close friends, family or their favorite content creators. Users will be able to have up to 50 favorites. Starred posts from a user’s favorites will take high priority on the user’s home feed. Accounts are not notified when they are added or subtracted from a user’s favorites list.

New Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Kids on Social Media Introduced

The Kids Online Safety Act, new bipartisan legislation, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R), its intent is to help stop the potentially dangerous impacts of social media on children. It would target how social media platforms handle content on issues like eating disorders, suicide, and substance abuse.

Sen. Blumenthal stated that “Big Teach has brazenly failed children and betrayed its trust, putting profits above safety.”

The legislation would create specific responsibilities that social media platforms must comply with to protect children from sexual exploitation and the promotion of things like alcohol or gambling in addition to “rabbit holes of dangerous material.” All of this according to a fact sheet released by lawmakers.

The new bill would require that settings for families that would help parents protect children from harmful content. It would give parents tools to control children’s online purchases and help curb app addiction. These settings would have to be enabled by default.

The new legislation would also require social media platforms to release annual third-party audits on the risk level of their platform to minors. It would also oblige platforms to release their data to independent researchers or academics so they can study the impacts of the platforms on young people.