Things that caught our eye

Concerned about Artificial Intelligence? Microsoft chat robot goes nuts

24 Mar, 2016   | by:

A chat bot released by Microsoft this Wednesday, was taken down on Thursday because her self-learning capabilities had turned her into a racist and sex-loving robot who thought that ‘Hitler was right’.

How did that happen? Tay, the chat bot, learned from the conversations she had on Twitter, which apparently was a weakness in her programming. Elle Hunt from The Guardian writes:

“Tay in most cases was only repeating other users’ inflammatory statements, but the nature of AI means that it learns from those interactions. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that Microsoft didn’t factor in the Twitter community’s fondness for hijacking brands’ well-meaning attempts at engagement when writing Tay.”

Read on: The Guardian, ‘Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot, gets a crash course in racism from Twitter.’

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Facebook has to identify uploader of revenge porn, says Dutch court

25 Jun, 2015   | by:

A Dutch Court today ruled that Facebook has a duty to identify a person who has uploaded revenge porn video on its social network. In this case, the video displays a woman, Chantal, performing oral sex on her now ex-boyfriend. A fake account bearing Chantal’s name was created and used to share the private video with her friends and others. Chantal’s ex-boyfriend, who recorded the video, has always denied uploading the video. Although Facebook removed the video within one hour, the video had already found its way online and is still being shared. Chantal went to court and claimed release of information identifying of the person who created the fake account and uploaded the video. More…


Things that caught our eye

The new privacy-friendly social network: Minds. But is it secure?

19 Jun, 2015   | by:

Yet another social network: Minds. The network is powered by “software that respects your freedom & privacy.” One of its privacy-friendly features is that it allows for end-to-end encrypted private messaging. However, there are some critical vulnerabilities in the social network’s website that need to be fixed before it can really be privacy-friendly.

The network is clearly taking aim at Facebook. Minds founder Bill Otmann told Business Insider that “Our stance is the users deserve the control of social media in every sense”. The Minds team has also opted for a transparent ranking algorithm, which sharply contrasts with Facebook’s timeline ‘black box’.

“For every mobile vote, comment, remind, swipe and upload you earn points which can be exchanged for views on posts of your choice. It’s a new web paradigm that gives everyone a voice” (Wired).

The network seems to have attracted the attention of activist group Anonymous. An Anonymous-affiliated page, ‘ART of Revolution’, put out a call to support the site: “Let us collaborate to help build and other open-source, encrypted networks to co-create a top site of the people, by the people and for the people”.

Interestingly, security company VoidSec put the website of the new social network to the test and found critical vulnerabilities. Some elements, such as the site’s search box, make it possible to inject malicious code into the page that can be used for phishing attacks. According to VoidSec’s report, public messages can easily be deleted. Furthermore, all file-types can be uploaded to the network, making it vulnerable to malware distribution. Although Minds is still in ‘alpha’, these and other issues mentioned in the report quickly need to be fixed before we can take Minds seriously as a privacy-friendly social network.

Update June 19, 2015, 9 AM

Apparently, security company VoidSec reported about the vulnerabilities without giving Minds a chance to actually fix the issues. The company’s Vulnerability Disclosure Policy describes a detailed workflow of how the company deals with vulnerabilities they find. An essential step in the workflow is contacting the developer about the vulnerabilities in order to allow him to fix the issues.

On Twitter, Minds claims that VoidSec has not informed Minds about the vulnerabilities:


Two days ago, VoidSec did mention on a Bugs group page within Minds that there were issues. However, one wonders whether this is the appropriate way to contact Minds about security issues.


Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 10.04.14





It seems that VoidSec has sought publicity a bit too quickly. After realizing that, I started a Twitter discussion with Voidsec about the discrepancy between their official disclosure policy and the way they dealt with the situation.

The story ends with some good news as Minds has fixed the issues, and both parties have expressed their will to cooperate in the future.

Things that caught our eye

“Revenge porn: Chrissy Chambers and the Search for Justice”

5 Jun, 2015   | by:

A mini-documentary about YouTube-star Chrissy Chambers who became a victim of revenge porn.

You can find the accompanying The Guardian article here.

Things that caught our eye

An algorithm to translate to Emoji

19 May, 2015   | by:

I just came across the “The Emoji Translation Project” on Kickstarter. The project’s aim is to build an emoji translation engine. How do you build such an engine?

“There’s plenty of content around the web in English, but there’s not that much in emoji. Thats why we’re raising money on Kickstarter: we want to pay people to translate sentences into emoji.”

“The end result will be an algorithm capable of translating any phrase from English to emoji (and back, we hope). Along with sharing the data, we’ll make the trained engine publicly available online for anyone to use, just like Google Translate. Just think of something you want to express in emoji, and press “Translate!”

“We will then use those sentences to train a translation engine powered by statistics and machine learning. This method goes beyond a simple find-and-replace system, and actually models how ideas are represented in emoji, and then how simple ideas are composed to communicate complex ideas.”

Below is an example of a translated text that reminds of the movie Lost in Translation.


The project will only be funded if at least $15.000 is pledged by May 21st. As of writing, a little under $6.000 has been pledged, so there is little chance the translation engine will actually see the light of day. After reading Robbie Fordyce’s latest piece on Facebook Stickers, I wonder if Facebook could be interested in the technology. Only 48 hours left to invest!

Check out the project on Kickstarter

Things that caught our eye

Drones catching Drones

1 Mar, 2015   | by:

The BBC has a piece describing how to catch a drone. One of the options is to use another drone with a net to catch the intruding drone. A simple but brilliant technology. In the video below you can see a French “interceptor drone” at work.


Things that caught our eye

‘Global Intellectual Property Center’ sends love letter to Trans-Pacific Partnership

24 Feb, 2015   | by:

“Roses are red
Violets are blue
I love the TPP
And so should you”

That’s how the Global Intellectual Property Center’s open love letter to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) starts off.  The Global Intellectual Property Center is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which confusingly is not a government agency, but an ordinary lobbying group.

The Center is deeply in love with all aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including its chapter on intellectual property enforcement: “My creative and innovative talents need your protection. Without trade agreements like you, it would be a long, hard journey to jumpstart our economies.”

As of now, there are no signs the Center will have its heart broken.  The Obama administration is seeking “fast track” authority, or “trade promotion authority”, to further negotiate the TPP without much intervention by the U.S. Congress. It’s now up to Congress to decide whether it will grant that authority. Discussions in Congress have already started.

Hat tip to EFF.

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Buying your way around ad blocking software. The story of Adblock Plus

4 Feb, 2015   | by:

According to a 2014 report by Adobe and Page Fair, nearly 150 million internet users browse the web using ad blocking software, a 70 percent increase compared to 2013. It is safe to say, that ad blocking software is on the rise, and poses a serious problem for internet and media companies who have built their businesses on advertising revenue. More…

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Things that caught our eye

Taylor Swift trademarked her lyrics? No, she did not. Not yet.

30 Jan, 2015   | by:

Many news media currently report that Taylor Swift has trademarked parts from her lyrics, such as “this sick beat” and “we never go out of style”.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog:

“Thinking about selling T-shirts with “This Sick Beat” or “Party Like Its 1989” emblazoned on the front? Well, think again, because the only person who can legally do so now is Taylor Swift.”


“This means you’ll need Swift’s permisison if you want to use any of those phrases on a whole host of stuff: aprons, “non-medicated” toiletries and — we kid you not — walking sticks.”


“Now that she owns the trademark, no one else can make T-shirts that say “This Sick Beat” and sell them outside of her stadium concerts without breaking the law. It’s a smart business move, even if it does seem a little bit silly.”

And MSN (copying Vox who “broke the news”):

“She also own the rights to “Party Like It’s 1989″, “‘Cause We Never Go Out of Style”, “Could Show You Incredible Things” and “Nice to Meet You, Where You Been?””


They are all mistaken…

Taylor Swift has only filed an application for a trademark, which does not mean she has a trademark, nor that she will definitely have one in the future. It is now up to the US Patent and Trademark Office to decide whether Swift’s application complies with US trademark law. For instance, one of the requirements Swift’s mark must meet is that there is no “likelihood of confusion” between her mark and other registered trademarks.

Some media have already corrected their mistakes. For instance, The Guardian:

“This article was amended on 29 January to correct references to copyrights, which should have been trademarks, and to acknowledge that the trademarks have not yet been granted.”

You can keep an eye on all Taylor Swift’s trademark applications here.

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Things that caught our eye

Suspect in Amanda Todd-case writes open letter claiming innocence

28 Jan, 2015   | by:

Dutch citizen Aydin C., who is accused of assaulting and blackmailing multiple girls, has written an open letter in English claiming that he is innocent and has become a target in an orchestrated hate campaign. Aydin C. sent his open letter to Dutch news network RTL Nieuws (Dutch language).

One of  Aydin C.’s alleged victims was Amanda Todd, who in 2012 committed suicide at the age of 15. Aydin C. is currently in detention and awaiting trial in the Netherlands. On Friday, February 13, his pre-trial detention will be subject of court proceedings (Dutch language).

Aydin C.’s lawyer Christian van Dijk has confirmed that the letter is indeed coming from Aydin C.:

Read Aydin C’s open letter (English).


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Things that caught our eye

Google takes down Google News in Spain

11 Dec, 2014   | by:

This news is just in: Google is taking down its news service in Spain. Google says that its decision is the result of new Spanish legislation requiring “every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not.”

On 16 December Google will pull to the plug on its news service:

“As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.”

Read more on this issue on Google’s Europe Blog.

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Looking Into Living Rooms: Watch Footage Of Thousands Of Internet-Connected Cameras Online

4 Nov, 2014   | by:

A nightmare from the Internet of Things has arrived just in time for Christmas: images from thousands of internet-connected cameras from all over the world are publicly available, online, and ready for anyone to easily view. In September, MailOnline reported about an unspecified website that allows ‘home hackers’ to spy on people through internet-connected cameras. About a week ago, Motherboard‘s Joseph Cox also reported on the website without explicitly mentioning the website’s URL in his article. However, by linking to a WHOIS-record of the website’s domain name, Cox gave away the website’s URL. Many Dutch media are now reporting about the website and mention the website’s URL:

From pictures of backyards to schoolyards, detention centres to daycare centers, and even living rooms, you can watch them all on After browsing the website for a while, I saw many pictures of recognizable people having a coffee or working at their office. Below are some less-intrusive examples that hopefully still illustrate the magnitude of the privacy problems at issue.


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Things that caught our eye

YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley calls copyright claims against YouTube “unfair”

25 Oct, 2014   | by:

That is what Arabian Business writes. In an exclusive interview with the business magazine, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley explains why Youtube was targeted by television broadcasters:

“I feel the [broadcasting] industry was making a lot of noise because they’re more scared about losing control, not necessarily just of creation of content, because everyone has a camera in their hand, but also the distribution of that content.”

One series of cases that jumps to mind is the Viacom v. YouTube saga, in which Viacom unsuccessfully sued YouTube for many copyright infringements.

Read the full story here.


Things that caught our eye

Video: Lawrence Lessig interviews Edward Snowden

23 Oct, 2014   | by:

This past Monday, Professor Lawrence Lessig interviewed Edward Snowden on the issue of institutional corruption and the practices of the National Security Agency (NSA). A video of the interview is available below.

Source: YouTube/Harvard Law School.

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Can you shoot a drone?

6 Oct, 2014   | by:

Drones are in the news. Or more accurately, their pilots and the people annoyed by them. The French Local has a story about an Israeli tourist flying a drone over the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris:

“The 24-year-old tourist had launched the drone, equipped with a Go-Pro camera, above the famous Gothic church on Wednesday morning, and sent it hovering over the historic Hotel Dieu hospital and a police station, a police source told AFP.”

The French police arrested him and made him spend the night in jail. The Israeli tourist was also given a hefty fine for “operating an aircraft non-compliant with safety laws.”

Another drone-story takes place not in a public space, but in the privacy of someone’s backyard. CBS Philadelphia reports about a New Jersey man being accused of shooting down his neighbor’s drone.


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Things that caught our eye

Facebook about its Research: “It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently”

2 Oct, 2014   | by:

Facebook has evaluated the way it does research. Mike Schroepfer, Chief Technology Officer at Facebook, introduced a new framework for the company’s private and public research. Schroepfer:

“We’re committed to doing research to make Facebook better, but we want to do it in the most responsible way.”

One change that caught my eye is the introduction of an internal panel that will review Facebook’s research projects:

“We’ve created a panel including our most senior subject-area researchers, along with people from our engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams, that will review projects falling within these guidelines. This is in addition to our existing privacy cross-functional review for products and research.”

While it’s a step in the right direction, it’s notable that only Facebook employees seem to be part of the review panel. No independent researchers, nor any customers users.

Read more about Facebook’s new research policy here. Thanks to Ryan Calo for signaling the news on Twitter.

Things that caught our eye

Reddit CEO: Copyright law was reason for Takedown of “TheFappening” subreddit

2 Oct, 2014   | by:

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Reddit explaining its reasons for removal of the “The Fappening” subreddit. I summarized it as “a combination of technical difficulties, copyright law, and morality.”

On his internetcases blog, Evan Brown links to a recent VentureBeat interview with Reddit CEO Yishan Wong. In the interview, Wong explains that the takedown was not an incident, but part of Reddit’s policy to remove copyright infringing materials, and to prevent linking to pay-per-click sites, or websites with malware. Wong is silent on any moral issues with regard to the celebrity photo hack:

“If there’s any confusion: [Reddit] did not shut down /r/TheFappening due to content linking to nude celebrity photos. The subreddit was shut down because users were reposting content already taken down due to valid DMCA requests, and because spammers began posting links to the images hosted on their own pay-per-click sites, or sites intended to spread malware. Both activities violate our rules and we took down the subreddit for those reasons only. Similar subreddits created immediately afterwards were also removed for similar reasons, some were created by the spammers themselves.

We understand that this was confusing because our clarification around this stance was posted at around the same time that activity in the subreddit began to violate the rules we’ve detailed here (and thus triggering a shutdown), so we hope this makes things clear.”

Based on the VentureBeat interview with Wong, Brown argues that Reddit’s fear of copyright liability seemed to be a stronger driver for removal than the dignitary interests of the celebrities:

“We can’t read too much from this comment, but it does implicate that the dignitary interests of the celebrities involved did not motivate Reddit to do the right thing. Instead, the risk of copyright liability (or, more precisely, the risk that DMCA safe harbor protection may be eliminated) was a stronger motivation.”

To add to Brown’s argument, and as Melinda Sebastian has already pointed out on this blog: the celebrity leak does not just interfere with the interests of celebrities, but also means something to us, non-celebrities:

“It is not just celebrities who are being watched. It is not just celebrities who feel that they are being watched, particularly in this post NSA-creepin time we find ourselves living in. And it is not just celebrity women who feel violated, pissed off, and all around creeped out when they feel themselves reduced to targets of nude surveillance. They just happen to be the ones with the greatest media presence, who can provide an illustrative example of this beyond voyeuristic environment.”

I assume it is not Wong’s intent to downplay the severity of the celebrity photo hack, or that Reddit doesn’t care about our privacy or that of celebrities. I think Wong’s statement should be seen as an attempt to frame Reddit’s actions as being part of its general policy to remove copyright infringing materials, and to protect users against malware. In that sense there was nothing “special” about the removal of the “TheFappening” subreddit. To prevent liability for copyright infringements, service providers such as Reddit, need to remove copyright infringing materials from their websites when they are notified about such infringements. Wong’s statement and focus on copyright law should be seen as an attempt to escape any allegations of Reddit having editorial control over the website’s content, other than the right and ability to delete content in case of copyright infringements. If Reddit exercises any such form of editorial control – let’s say: Reddit does not accept and removes celebrity nudes because it is against sharing such pictures – it runs the risk of losing the safe harbors that protect against liability for content provided by its users. And that’s not what Reddit wants…


Things that caught our eye

What’s in a name? Facebook’s new “EMEA Client Council”

30 Sep, 2014   | by:

I rejoiced for a moment when I read that Facebook set up its “EMEA Client Council“. Is the land of Facebook becoming a democracy? Will we, Facebook’s clients and customers, have a say in what Facebook does, or at least be heard?

“As part of our mission to make the world more open and connected, it is essential for Facebook to partner with and listen to our customers so we can align on priorities to drive greater impact across our region. Today, we’re delighted to announce the creation of the EMEA Client Council as a step towards achieving that goal.”

Eh, no. I was mistaken. The EMEA Client Council just means business:

“Our new EMEA Client Council will include representatives from brands and agencies across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, alongside senior Facebook leaders. We believe that developed and high-growth countries have much to learn from each other and wanted to create a forum where some of the best minds in the business can listen, inspire and share ideas about the future of marketing.”

Big companies like Aegis, Nestlé and Unilever are represented in Facebook’s Client Council. When Facebook means customers and clients, it means the big companies. We, the people, are probably just users.

Things that caught our eye

The Floodgates have opened: even more leaked celebrity pics

29 Sep, 2014   | by:

Last Friday, the Daily Beast reported that even more celebrity nude pictures have been leaked:

“On Friday afternoon, download links surfaced on Reddit and 4chan boards that led to presumably hacked private photos of supermodel Cara Delevingne, actress Anna Kendrick, and others.”

To make matters worse, according to the The Daily Dot, Apple knew of as early as March 2014 of a security hole in their iCloud security. It is, however, unclear whether those who “stole” the celebrity nudes actually made use of this security hole.

The celebrity photo hack raises the question what this form of celebrity surveillance means for the rest of us. On this blog, Melinda Sebastian has already provided some answers to that question:

“It is not just celebrities who are being watched. It is not just celebrities who feel that they are being watched, particularly in this post NSA-creepin time we find ourselves living in. And it is not just celebrity women who feel violated, pissed off, and all around creeped out when they feel themselves reduced to targets of nude surveillance. They just happen to be the ones with the greatest media presence, who can provide an illustrative example of this beyond voyeuristic environment.”

Read Melinda Sebastian’s full blog post.

Things that caught our eye

Go download Thom Yorke’s new album on BitTorrent

26 Sep, 2014   | by:

And the good news is: he’s ok with it. Or more precisely, Thom Yorke is selling his latest album through BitTorrent Inc. as a “BitTorrent Bundle“, so you can legally acquire on the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing network.

Emil Protalinski at The Next Web explains:

“Paygates will allow artists to monetize their Bundle content directly, though fans will only be able to download it a limited number of times before it is locked.”

However, buying BitTorrent Bundles does not yet offer a perfect user experience, according to Sam Machkovech at Ars Technica:

“More annoyingly, we didn’t receive an e-mail with a link to the torrent file download for future use. Not that it matters; BitTorrent informs users that it serves “protected” torrent files, meaning they must be used at the same IP address and computer if users wish to re-download the album in the future. The MP3s may be DRM-free, but this hurdle to authenticating our six-dollar purchase in the future left a bad taste in our mouths. We can only hope the service amends this annoyance as it begins pushing more bundles; currently, the BitTorrent bundle site mostly consists of free albums which can be claimed simply by joining the site’s newsletter system.”