Thursday, December 2, 2010

Florida sued for DMV sale of 31 million drivers' information to marketing firm; faces class action

By Robert Nolin

Sun Sentinel

Posted: 9:34 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010

A lawsuit against the state of Florida over the sale of personal driver's license information to a private firm may proceed as a class action, a federal judge has ruled.

The suit claims the state, specifically the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, improperly sold personal information gleaned from about 31 million driver's license records to Shadowsoft Inc., an Irving, Texas-based Internet marketer. Shadowsoft then sold the information to other firms that target consumers.

The records sales, which a lawyer in the case said brought in a large yet unspecified amount of money to the state, took place between 2005 through 2009.

Such sales, however, violate a federal statute banning the disclosure of personal information from driver's licenses, said Howard Bushman, an attorney with the Miami law firm representing the affected drivers. The information released included addresses, dates of birth and possibly Social Security numbers, Bushman said.

Earlier this month in Tallahassee, U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Hinkle allowed drivers whose privacy rights may have been violated to become members of the suit.

The extent of any money award, and which drivers would be entitled to it, won't be determined until after the case is settled or tried successfully in the plaintiffs' favor.

"We're pushing forward with the case," Bushman said. "There's a lot of work to be done."

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

Facebook's 'Like This' button is tracking you |

A researcher from a Dutch university is warning that Facebook's 'Like This' button is watching your every move.

Arnold Roosendaal, who is a doctoral candidate at the Tilburg University for Law, Technology and Society, warns that Facebook is tracking and tracing everyone, whether they use the social networking site or not.

Roosendaal says that Facebook's tentacles reach way beyond the confines of its own web sites and subscriber base because more and more third party sites are using the 'Like This' button and Facebook Connect.


The researcher provides three examples of how the 'Like This' button on any web page can gather user browser data and send it back to Facebook.

The first scenario involves users who already have Facebook accounts:

"When the account is created, Facebook issues a cookie containing a unique user ID," writes  Roosendaal. "This cookie facilitates the display of a username in the login field at returning visits. When accessing Facebook from another device, a temporary cookie is issued, which is replaced by a cookie with the same ID after logging into the account."

This allows different devices to be connected to one account carrying the same ID cookie. Every time the user visits Facebook, the cookie is sent together with the HTTP request for the site. As a result, Facebook knows who wants to log in before the login has taken place.

But the cookie is not only sent when a member wants to log on to Facebook, it is also sent  every single time a web site which includes the 'Like' button is visited.

"Facebook receives the information concerning the user, including his unique ID, via the cookie. When the user actually clicks the button, he has to provide his Facebook login details and a message about the 'Like' is posted on his profile page," writes Roosendaal.

But data about the user is sent to Facebook regardless of whether the Like button is actually activated.

Which is all quite scary - but not too surprising, given Facebook's reputation for snooping on its registered users.

What becomes really scary is realising how Facebook can track your movements even if you haven't signed up to its fake-friend collection service for lonely teens and sad divorcees.

Even if you don't have a Facebook account, you are far from immune from prying eyes, as Roosendaal explains:

"When a user does not have a Facebook account, there is no cookie and no user ID available. In this case, an HTTP GET request for the 'Like' button doesn't issue a cookie.

"However, when a site is visited which includes Facebook Connect, this application issues a cookie. From that moment on, visits to other websites which display the 'Like' button result in a request for the Like button from the Facebook server including the cookie."

Which means Facebook has swiped another batch of valuable data without asking for permission.

When you consider that 40 million unique visitors ended up on a site using Facebook Connect in a single month in March 2009, and that these particular cookies have a two-year expiry date, that ads up to a lot of user data flying around looking for a home.

"Based on the cookie, the entire web behaviour of an individual user can be followed," says Roosendaal. "Every site that includes some kind of Facebook content will initiate an interaction with the Facebook servers, disclosing information about the visited web site together with the cookie."

So you find yourself dragging all of this invisible data round with you like a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe, even though you have never even been to Facebook, let alone signed up.

So what happens if you do eventually take the plunge and join the other half a billion lost souls with nothing better to do than describe the minutiae of their tedious lives to virtual strangers?

On signing up, the 'toilet paper' cookie, as we have now decided to name it, is sent to Facebook as part of the the request for the web page to be loaded. The server responds and issues some new session cookies and when the account is actually created, a unique ID number is issued and sent in another cookie.

"The connection between this ID cookie and the old cookie is made behind the scenes by Facebook's servers," explains Roosendaal. "This means that the entire historical information of the user can be connected to the newly-created Facebook account. From this moment on, all subsequent requests for Facebook content go accompanied with the cookie including the unique user ID."

We'll assume that, as you're reading this rather than laughing at Lolcats, you know a thing or two about cookies. They are helpful to users and of immense value to marketeers, allowing them to bombard you with targeted advertising based on your browsing history.

But with an increasing proportion of sites turning to the likes of Facebook in order to increase traffic and revenue - and let's face it, 500 million people is a pretty attractive audience for anyone - isn't it time we started putting our collective foot down about the way in which our every move is monitored?

If every time you walked past a shop on your local High Street someone stuffed an advertising flyer into your pocket without asking your permission, there would soon be a trail of leaflet distributors clutching black eyes and broken noses.

So why do we keep letting Facebook get away with it?

We definitely don't Like This.

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

Medical Daily: Study suggests that being too clean can make people sick

Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of Bisphenol A among adults may negatively influence the immune system, a new University of Michigan School of Public Health study suggests.

Triclosan is a chemical compound widely used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices. Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in many plastics and, for example, as a protective lining in food cans. Both of these chemicals are in a class of environmental toxicants called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones.

Using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, U-M researchers compared urinary BPA and triclosan with cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibody levels and diagnosis of allergies or hay fever in a sample of U.S. adults and children over age 6. Allergy and hay fever diagnosis and CMV antibodies were used as two separate markers of immune alterations.

"We found that people over age 18 with higher levels of BPA exposure had higher CMV antibody levels, which suggests their cell-mediated immune system may not be functioning properly," said Erin Rees Clayton, research investigator at the U-M School of Public Health and first author on the paper.

Researchers also found that people age 18 and under with higher levels of triclosan were more likely to report diagnosis of allergies and hay fever.

There is growing concern among the scientific community and consumer groups that these EDCs are dangerous to humans at lower levels than previously thought.

"The triclosan findings in the younger age groups may support the 'hygiene hypothesis,' which maintains living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to micro-organisms that are beneficial for development of the immune system," said Allison Aiello, associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health and principal investigator on the study.

As an antimicrobial agent found in many household products, triclosan may play a role in changing the micro-organisms to which we are exposed in such a way that our immune system development in childhood is affected.

"It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good," said Aiello, who is also a visiting associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard.

Previous animal studies indicate that BPA and triclosan may affect the immune system, but this is the first known study to look at exposure to BPA and triclosan as it relates to human immune function, Aiello said.

One surprise finding is that with BPA exposure, age seems to matter, said Rees Clayton. In people 18 or older, higher amounts of BPA were associated with higher CMV levels, but in people younger than 18 the reverse was true.

"This suggests the timing of the exposure to BPA and perhaps the quantity and length of time we are exposed to BPA may be affecting the immune system response," Rees Clayton said.

This is just the first step, she said, but a very important one. Going forward, researchers would like to study the long-term effects of BPA and triclosan in people to see if they can establish a causal relationship.

One limitation of the study is that it measured disease and exposure simultaneously and thus shows only part of the picture, Aiello said.

"It is possible, for example, that individuals who have an allergy are more hygienic because of their condition, and that the relationship we observed is, therefore, not causal or is an example of reverse causation," Aiello said.

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

This Stack Of PS3s Is The 33rd Biggest Computer In The World

This Stack Of PS3s Is The 33rd Biggest Computer In The World

This Stack Of PS3s Is The 33rd Biggest Computer In The World

Remember how the US Air Force bought a ton of PlayStation 3 consoles then strung them together? Ever wonder just why the military would do a thing like that? Well, it's not for playing Killzone on.

Indeed, you couldn't play it - or any other disc-based PS3 game - if you tried, as every PS3 you see pictured above has had its Blu-ray drive functionality removed.

In all, 1760 consoles have been joined with "168 separate graphical processing units and 84 coordinating servers" to form what the Air Force is calling "the fastest interactive computer in the entire Defense Department". It's also, the military claims, the 33rd largest computer of any kind in the world.

This "rat king" of PlayStation 3s will be used for things like research into AI, fast processing of satellite pictures and the enhancement of radar.

Interestingly, despite only recently going online with this monstrosity, the Air Force Research Lab's Mark Barnell recognises that the Cell technology powering the PS3 is no longer the bees knees, and says "we're looking forward to working with the next generation of architecture".

Which is formal talk for "we're looking forward to going out and buying 2000 PlayStation 4s in a few years time".

Defense Department discusses new Sony PlayStation supercomputer [, via Gamasutra]

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The Air Force thought about stringing together XBOX 360's...but in the end they decided against purchasing 1760 subscriptions to XBOX Live.

zing pow Reply

As long as it doesn't become sentient, I approve. Reply

I'm pretty sure this Monstrosity could revive Hitler and bring him back to life. Reply

I can't wait till they create a microchip that's more powerful than all those ps3's combined Reply
NerD:blogOtaku approved this comment

Too bad that with the loss of OtherOS, this cluster can only get slower as PS3s die from it.

Too bad Sony will probably do the same thing to the PS4, making it a horrible investment because parts will be impossible to find. Reply

I cannot imagine why the military would do something like this. Why not buy a bunch of high-end computer parts instead? Reply
NerD:blogOtaku promoted this comment

I'd hope they had these ones custom made for them otherwise they're hardly tapping its potential... If they want full access to its abilities, they could get something like an IBM System X or Z, a Mercury server, or Sony's worst promoted product ever, a rackmount workstation that is basically like a PS3 with full access to the CPU and GPU - I can't find any evidence that it even existed, but for a while they had it on their American site, and an error page if you viewed it from Canada... Reply

What if I strung loads of XBOX's together? I doubt it will be as powerful.

And I hope that place is very very well air conditioned, I'd hate to see them all get the YLOD at once. Reply

Guess what xbox 360 would do if it was put like this......
ChewyChavezIII promoted this comment

I love that they are watching terminator (probably a shop), and i love how the keyboard is just kind of sitting in that rack without anywhere to place it. guess budget cuts mean you have to sit on the floor. Reply

Yeah but the sad part is they put in an order for space heaters. And you wonder why a hammer costs $10k. Reply

No one realizes but this cluster of PS3s became self-aware at 2:14am on August 29, 1997 even before the PS3 existed. Reply
Revolver Awesomelot promoted this comment

I wonder what firmware version they're running, given the recent removal of Linux support. Reply

Those racks are from Home Depot. I use one in my kitchen for plates, pots and the likes. They're pretty heavy duty.

You can have them either static, as I do, or with casters as the USAF do. I guess they have more need for mobility with todays battlefields.

They also come in matt black, although I prefer the chrome look.

I'm such a shelving whore. Reply

Revolver Awesomelot promoted this comment
zenpoet approved this comment

What happened with the Air Force's suit(?) against Sony regarding Linux functionality? Reply

Oh crap, that's Terminator 2 playing on the TV! THE PS3's ARE LEARNING!!!! Reply
Revolver Awesomelot promoted this comment

The 2nd most powerful computer in all time and space being Deep Thought. Only bested by "Earth" itself. Reply

"I don't know how long I can hold this." Reply
MacGyver1138 promoted this comment

+1 for "rat king" reference
+1 for anyone who knows what a rat king is.
MacGyver1138 promoted this comment

Since those are all the 'fat' models of PS3s, I wonder if they are having issues with them going YLOD? Reply
Azel approved this comment

So is this "The Playstation Centipede"? Reply

Am I the only one that finds it amusing that the shot in the video screen is from Terminator 2? Reply
Duuuuuuude approved this comment

very cool. they should host (war) games.

i've never been tea-bagged by a military AI. Reply

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart