May 30, 2010

LinkedIn could put stop contract fraud

EMPLOYERS are using new software programs to trawl networking websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to recruit and evaluate staff.

Nick Wailes, from the University of Sydney's work and organisational studies department, said recruitment firms were under threat from the software, which allows employers to build candidate profiles.

The software examines criteria such as a candidate's age, gender, skills and even the quality of their business and social interactions.
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''These programs have a function which allows an employer to basically say, 'I need a computer programmer with these skills and these characteristics', then hit a button and … come up with a list of potential candidates,'' Dr Wailes said. ''LinkedIn and Facebook are repositories of so much information: rather than going through an agency that has a database, you can virtually do it yourself - they're developing a shortlist without even going to the market.''

The software giant SAP has signed a deal with LinkedIn so that its clients - about 140,000 companies worldwide - can scour the networking site for the best potential recruits.

The software will be introduced in Australia later this year.

Dr Wailes said it was also being used to evaluate employees to determine who was suitable for a particular project or promotion.

''Forty per cent of the work done by professional people these days is project based,'' Dr Wailes said. ''Employers, particularly those from large companies, use social networking sites to figure out who is best suited to a job.''

Peter Noblet, regional director of one of Hays Recruitment, said the technology was a useful addition to traditional recruitment methods but not a replacement. ''It's something that we realise can't be ignored,'' he said. ''We're starting to see companies doing it themselves - we see it as an add-on to what we already do.''

An Australian spokesman for SAP said the software ''will help bring professionals and employers together by highlighting [people's] unique accomplishments''.

May 27, 2010

'Furious' relatives accuse Air France, Airbus of cover-up

Relatives of the 228 people who died in an Air France crash mid-Atlantic between Rio and Paris last year lashed out at the airline Tuesday after another unsuccessful search for the plane's black boxes.

"Airbus and Air France are fleeing their responsibilities. They take us for idiots," the head of association of 100 families of those who perished on flight AF 447 in June 2009, Nelson Marinho said.

"We're furious. With all the information and technology they have, they can't even find enormous pieces like the planes fuselage. In fact, they don't want to find it," he charged.

Marinho claimed that the doomed plane had a malfunctioning component called a Back Up Speed Scale, or BUSS, which was meant to kick in when speed sensors failed, as happened in the case of AF 447.

"This component costs 320,000 euros and Air France didn't want to change it," Marinho said. He added that he had received the information from "Air France pilots."

Earlier Tuesday, in Paris, the French air crash investigation agency BEA said its last search for the wreckage of the plane had drawn a blank and the hunt was suspended for at least a month.

"The search came to an end yesterday (Monday)," said BEA chairman Jean-Paul Troadec.

"We have decided to perform a review of all the search operations, which began almost a year ago. We'll bring in our partners. It'll take at least a month or two to do this review and decide whether to continue the hunt."

So far, however, the agency has only said that the air speed sensors, called Pitots, which are thought to have iced up at high altitude, were a contributing factor to the crash and were not thought to be the sole cause of the tragedy.

Air France has since replaced the Pitots on its fleet of Airbus jets with a newer model, without saying that the older one was responsible, as some pilots and lawyers acting for the families have alleged.

Troadec insisted the BEA had not yet any clear scenario in mind as to what caused the crash, and warned that without finding the black boxes -- which now seems extremely unlikely -- the precise cause would be difficult to confirm.

May 25, 2010

iShock could hit iPad fans

The iPad could be a loaded gun of credit so the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is warning users to buy pre-paid plans to avoid iShock. Apple is due to release the iPad on May 28 and those using the 3G models could be hit with excess data charges, commonly known as bill shock. Smartphone users have been hit with bill shock - the latest high profile case was South Australian MP Russell Wortley who received a $10,000 phone bill after his son downloaded games.

Telstra and Optus will offer pre-paid plans, while Vodafone and 3 are expected to make an announcement shortly regarding their 3G iPad plans, including a post-paid option.  But ACCAN says consumers should steer clear of the post-paid plans to begin with.  Post-paid plans, even those with names like unlimited and cap, usually have a data usage limit and consumers are charged at a much higher rate for data if they exceed it.

"To avoid getting an iShock, we're strongly advising consumers opt for a pre-paid plan for at least the first three months until they get a feel for how much data they're using," ACCAN director of policy Elissa Freeman said in a statement. "But anyone using a 3G iPad on a post-paid plan essentially has access to a loaded gun of credit.
"While you're absorbed in checking out what your iPad can do, you're in danger of going over your data usage limit and facing a huge bill."

Telecommunications companies say post-paid customers can monitor their bills online to track how much data they're using, but ACCAN says the online monitors can lag. In the US AT&T is the only provider of 3G iPad plans and offer an unlimited data plan for $US29.99 ($A36.08) per month.

May 20, 2010

Google debates face recognition technology

Google  executives are wrestling over whether to launch controversial facial recognition technology after a barrage of criticism over its privacy policies.

Eric Schmidt, chief executive, said a series of public disputes over privacy issues had caused the management team to review its procedures and the launch of new technologies. According to Google executives, facial recognition is one of the key topics of internal debate.

Mr Schmidt said: “Facial recognition is a good example . . . anything we did in that area would be highly, highly planned, discussed and reviewed. When you go through these things, you review your management procedures.”

However, he would not rule out any eventual roll-out, saying: “It is important that we continue to innovate.”

Facial recognition has the potential to be the next privacy flashpoint. Google already uses the technology in its Picasa photo sharing service. This lets users tag some of the people in their photos and then searches through other albums to suggest other pictures in which the same faces appear.

However, Google has held back on launching the technology more broadly. It was not included, for example, in the Google Goggles product, launched last year. This allows people to search for something on the internet by taking a picture of it on a mobile phone.

May 16, 2010

Australian man charged with Facebook murder

An Australian man has been charged with murder after allegedly befriending a teenager on the social networking site Facebook then luring her to her death.

Christopher James Dannevig, 20, allegedly set up a fake identity on Facebook, claiming to work for the New South Wales Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES), and offered Nona Belomesoff,18, a job working with the organisation.

He enticed her to isolated bushland south of Sydney, telling her that they were going on an overnight camping trip with another WIRES worker. Instead of spending the evening looking for injured animals, as Ms Belomesoff believed, she was murdered and her body dumped in a creek bed where it was found last Friday.

As Mr Dannevig faced court in Sydney, Ms Belomesoff’s family spoke of their devastation at how the teenager’s love of animals led to her death.

Organised crime rips $15bn out of the economy

ORGANISED criminals are believed to be ripping more than $15 billion a year out of the Australian economy in an increasingly sophisticated assault on the public, big business and governments.
The figure represents an alarming 50 per cent surge since 2008, when organised criminals were believed to have cost Australia at least $10 billion through loss of legitimate business revenue, loss of tax revenue, spending on law enforcement and managing social damage inflicted by violence and drugs.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland has warned that a new breed of tech-savvy criminals has been targeting Australia, using the latest technologies to defraud companies, the public and governments and launder money from afar.
He said the federal government - which earlier this month joined forces with the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Canada to tackle the globalised problem - was facing a tough battle as criminal networks ''adapt with ease'' to meet new threats from enforcement agencies.
''Organised criminals conspire across borders and we've got to form our own conspiracy to fight it,'' he told The Sunday Age.
Cyber-crime alone - where criminals use hacking and identity fraud to skim money from the public, companies and governments - is believed to be netting criminals about $70 million a year. But the most lucrative source of revenue for criminals remains illicit drugs.
He said the exact cost of organised crime was difficult to measure accurately, although ''regrettably the sense is that it is increasing, both as technology improves and there are more players coming into the field''.
In a speech to a meeting of attorneys-general in Washington, Mr McClelland suggested that criminals were now behaving like well-run corporations, constantly changing their tactics and using professionals such as lawyers and accountants to cover their tracks.
''Borders mean little to organised crime groups that often span multiple jurisdictions. Globalisation and advances in technology have allowed crimes to be committed remotely and in markets that were previously difficult for criminals to access.''
The government is also concerned that criminals are focusing their efforts on ''gaps in strategies'' in government efforts to face up to the international nature of the problem. In a joint declaration with the US, Canada, New Zealand and Britain, the government earlier this month signed a major agreement to share technologies, law enforcement agents and information.
A report on the problem by the Australian Crime Commission predicted that illicit drugs would remain the main source of income for criminal groups, although new communications technologies had made other sorts of crime increasingly attractive, with relatively low risks and high returns.
In particular, criminal groups have been using the latest social networking trends.
''Second Life, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook as well as increased use of internet banking and wireless technologies are changing how people communicate, and creating opportunities for criminals to infiltrate and influence vulnerable members of society,'' the report said.
It follows new laws allowing law enforcement agencies to confiscate criminal assets and require individuals suspected of unexplained wealth to demonstrate it was legally acquired.
The commission's annual report shows that in 2008-09 more than $12 million was recovered in unpaid taxes and $5 million in money earned from crime.
The government is spending $14.5 million on a Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre to co-ordinate the attack on organised crime between various intelligence agencies. Mr McClelland said the government would be particularly focusing on the banking and finance industry.

May 14, 2010

Something sick in the system

 ON MARCH 19, Shandong farmer Li Baoxiang consented to his only son being vaccinated for swine flu. That night, eight-year-old Li Zhikang said he felt sick. By the morning his body was trembling all over. Yesterday the father stood with tears streaming down his face at Beijing Children's Hospital as his boy struggled for life inside a crib in the intensive care unit. ''He's my only child,'' Li said. ''My own mother is sick and I cannot bring myself to tell her why we have come to Beijing. I'm such a trivial and ordinary person. I know I can't fight against the government.''

Li's family tragedy has become a conflict with the Chinese government because no official would investigate his claim that a dodgy vaccination had made his child sick. He tried the town, city, provincial and central governments, and various departments within each of them, only to be told each time that his problem should be taken some place else.

The person who did listen was Wang Keqin, chief reporter at the China Economic Times. Wang had earned a reputation as one of China's leading investigative journalists after exposing how mafia groups controlled Beijing's taxi industry, how mafia henchman had gunned down farmers at the village of Dingzhou after being called in by its Communist Party chief to resolve a land dispute, and also how collusion and cover-ups with blood transfusions in Henan province had caused a horrendous AIDS epidemic among the poorest peasants who lived there.

Two days before Li's son's vaccination, on March 17, Wang published his latest expose - this time of how health officials and business interests had colluded to create a monopoly on the province's vaccination system, worth 60 million yuan ($A9.8 million) a year.

He told how vials were left in sweltering conditions in order to stop the government's quality assurance stickers peeling off, while complaints were ignored. Wang linked those grossly mishandled vaccination vials with the deaths of four children and the illnesses of 74 others.

But his story and the victims he interviewed were treated as a threat to China's social stability rather than an urgent heath issue. Complainants were systematically rounded up, detained, and escorted back to their home villages. Wang was warned that his life may be in danger if he returned to Shanxi.

Another renowned Chinese journalist, Qian Gang, who now works at Hong Kong University's China media project after being pushed out of the Southern Weekend newspaper, described the ''chill'' that Wang's report sent through China.

''I first read Wang's report at the web portal QQ.com at 9.20am on March 17, where it was featured prominently at the top of the news headlines. Just half an hour later, the headline was removed and the report buried deep among run-of-the-mill news stories,'' he said.

At the same time, the government moved to control the agenda. A news release from Xinhua News Agency carried the response from provincial health officials in Shanxi, who denied the allegations in Wang's report, saying, ''Shanxi province has never received any report indicating mass adverse reactions as a result of vaccinations.''

On Wednesday morning, The Age went to the China Economic Times headquarters in Changping, in Beijing's northern suburbs, to learn more. Wang opened his office door looking agitated. ''I have some new information for you,'' he said. ''We've just had a meeting and our chief editor has been removed.'' Bao Yueyang, the chief editor, publisher and Communist Party boss of the newspaper, owned by the State Council's Development Research Centre, had paid the price for commissioning and doggedly defending Wang's report.

Meanwhile, a Shanxi Health Department whistleblower on the story, Chen Tao'an, said he had witnessed the gross mishandling of vaccine vials, even after numerous complaints. He said he knew of about 150 Shanxi families who had complained that their children had been sickened by the vaccinations.

Bloggers likened the tragedy to the recent milk-powder scandal, where hundreds of children died and thousands were made ill due to a similar pattern of government-business collusion and cover-ups. Distraught parents were intimidated against pursuing their complaints and lawyers were punished for representing them. The enormous security and propaganda system that trammels the Chinese media, and society more broadly, is designed to protect the Communist Party. But distinctions between the interests of the party and vested interests of individuals within the party are often hazy.

Sensibly, Wang declined to answer questions about which particular officials or business interests might have been upset by his story. Chen, the whistleblower, said the company involved had a ''complicated government background … I feel the power on the other side is quite strong.''

Wang said there were no signs that health officials had investigated complaints from distraught parents. Rather, they had been systematically harassed, detained and gagged. Our interview did not last long. Wang was interrupted several times by parents anxious about their sick children.

A colleague of Wang's received a text message from the farmer, Li, at Beijing Children's Hospital with his eight-year-old son.

''The doctor just told me he has to use immune protein, which requires about 10,000 yuan,'' Li wrote. He had already spent 170,000 yuan, mostly begged and borrowed from friends and family. ''I'm useless. I can't even save my own child. What am I living for?''

A fortnight before Wang's newspaper report, Premier Wen Jiabao had told the nation: ''Everything we do is to make people's lives happier, more dignified, so that society becomes more just and harmonious.'' He spoke of ''creating the conditions for the people to monitor the government''.

Wen's work report to the National People's Congress had been negotiated and approved by China's leadership group. There remains a chasm between the government's stated aspirations and the realities of power and incentives on the ground. But Wen's words - repeated and strengthened since - provided a signal for Chinese editors like Bao to be more adventurous. Chinese scholars were emboldened to publicly warn their leaders that their approach to ensuring ''social stability'' at all costs was dangerously destabilising.

In April, a team of Tsinghua University sociologists led by Professor Sun Liping submitted a remarkable report, with a lengthy extract published a fortnight ago in the popular Southern Weekend newspaper. ''Without fundamental resolution of the question of mechanisms for social justice and balancing interests, blindly preventing the expression of legitimate interests in the name of stability will only accumulate contradictions and render society even more unstable,'' the report said.

It detailed how ordinary people needed channels to express their grievances and the capacity to negotiate to protect their interests, including collectively. It said institutions of civil society had to be promoted, and government must allow transparency so that members of the public could view their own files and mitigate their suspicions.

And the government must step out of the way where it is not required and step in where it is needed, as the maker and arbiter of law. The failure to provide such channels and institutions fosters more corruption, inequality and worse.

''Stability work tends to become an instrument to maintain the interests of unscrupulous companies and contractors, a tool for maintaining the interests of developers [in carrying out] predatory evictions and relocations,'' the report said.

Government must ''provide institutional channels for venting social discontent … and forming social mechanisms for conflict resolution,'' it said. ''In modern society, the most fundamental rule is law.''

These warnings have taken on a new significance after a 10-week spate of gruesome schoolyard killings. The details of most cases have been tightly suppressed. Most Chinese newspapers failed to mention Wednesday's meat cleaver massacre at a kindergarten in Shanxi province, which reportedly involved a man's frustration at a property dispute.

Judging by comments from the scholars chosen to speak in the party's propaganda outlets, one of the party's main priorities is to make sure people don't talk and think too much about what social or institutional problems may lie beneath.

Professor Yu Jianrong, a lawyer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has pioneered China's new debate on social stability. ''The constitution should therefore guarantee a fair opportunity to take part in and to influence the political process,'' he wrote last month. And if not? ''Great social upheaval may thus occur, and the existing social and political orders are likely to be destroyed.''

Since then, Yu has penned an opinion article in the Southern Weekend about how to implement democratic reforms. And last week, another famous scholar, Yu Keping from the Communist Party School, gave a lengthy interview to Phoenix Weekly on the same subject.

The fact of these debates is progress, but they remain academic. On Wednesday at China Economic Times headquarters, we were shown a text message received by one of the Shanxi complainants named Wang Mingliang. His nine-month-old son had died during the Beijing Olympics, shortly after being vaccinated.

The SMS message is dated March 19 - two days after the China Economic Times report - and reads as follows: ''Don't guess who I am, my boss told me to contact you. Let me make it clear to you, don't make any more trouble with the vaccine issue. Once you stop, my boss will give you 100,000 yuan. You can give me your bank account number now. If you are determined to make trouble, it's very easy for my boss to find someone to cut off your leg … You are, after all, an ordinary person. But my boss is not.''

Scholars such as Yu Jianrong and Sun Liping, and journalists like Wang Keqin and his editor Bao Yueyang, believe too much is at stake for their country for them to buckle under to these threats.

Wang Mingliang, seeking justice for his deceased baby son, was shadowed by Shanxi police as he travelled to Beijing. Wang Keqin, the journalist, sheltered him in his family home. The next night, editor Bao Yueyang put him up in the newspaper's guesthouse. Wang wrote on his blog at the time that Bao was under enormous pressure ''from many sides'' but showed no fear. ''We will fight till the end for the safety of more Chinese children,'' Wang recalled Bao telling him.

Bao has now been removed, but has no regrets. ''If I hadn't published your report, I wouldn't have been able to feel peace again for as long as I live,'' Bao wrote on his blog after his dismissal. ''Even if I pay a price for this, it will still be worth it.''

May 12, 2010

Will e-health records be outsourced to Google??

OVER the past few months, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has kept mum on who exactly will run the proposed electronic health records system.  Will it be the private sector, Medicare, or some other government body? Will it be handed over to health insurers to manage? The crystal ball is still blurry, but we're hopeful Ms Roxon's office will clear the air once and for all today (if she responds to our query).  There have been murmurs in the industry for some time that the government was primed to "outsource" the administration of e-health records to commercial providers, although Ms Roxon has refused to confirm or deny the speculation.

Yesterday's federal budget added more fuel to the fire; look no further than Treasurer Wayne Swan's carefully selected delivery of the new funding regime for e-health records. "We believe the delivery of healthcare services should be transformed," he said.  "Tonight, I am announcing $467 million to modernise our health system by providing a personally controlled electronic health record for every Australian who wants one.

"This will mean patients and their doctors will have their health records at their fingertips -- improving patient safety and health care delivery."  But what does "personally controlled" mean?  This term has been floated a number of times over the past few months but the government and Ms Roxon have shied away from explaining what it actually means.  Will the government take control of our e-health records, or will it pass the buck to businesses such as Microsoft (Health Vault) and Google (Google Health)?

Experts like Sydney University's Mohamed Khadra argue that the funding announced yesterday was a drop in the ocean.  The surgery professor said there should have been 10 times that amount for e-health.  Perhaps the prohibitive cost is a major stumbling block to government going all the way on e-health, and the easier passage is to let private entities shoulder the cost and risks associated with an e-health records platform.

May 11, 2010

Aussies to get electronic health records: Budget

STOOD on a rusty nail? Need to know when you had your last tetanus shot? From mid-2012 the answer will be a click of the computer mouse away.

The Rudd Government will spend $467 million over the next two years to give every Australian who wants one, an electronic health record by July 2012.

"Patients will no longer have to remember every detail of their care history and retell it to every care provider they see,'' Health Minister Nicola Roxon said in a statement today.

"They will be able to present for treatment anywhere in the country and give permission for health professionals to access their relevant history.'' E-health records will list the medication a patient is using, along with their previous test results and immunisations.

Their introduction by 2012 was a key recommendation of the Rudd government's National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission.

The commission said an e-health record should ``at all times be owned and controlled by the patient''.

Android phones overtake iPhones: NPD

US sales of smartphones running Google's Android mobile operating system surged past those of Apple for the first time in the first quarter of the year, industry research firm NPD said Monday.

Android-powered smartphones accounted for 28 percent of US consumer sales in the first three months of the year compared with 21 percent for the iPhone, NPD said.

Canada's Research in Motion, maker of the popular Blackberry, retained the top spot with 36 percent of US smartphone sales in the quarter, NPD said.

Strong sales of Motorola's Android-powered Droid and HTC's Android-based Droid Eris were cited as among the reasons for Android's surge past Apple.

Google makes its open-source Android software available to handset manufacturers and also sells its own smartphone, the Nexus One.

"As in the past, carrier distribution and promotion have played a crucial role in determining smartphone market share," said Ross Rubin, NPD's executive director of industry analysis.

May 9, 2010

The Greek crisis and the blame game

Despite the huge amount of media coverage on the Greek financial crisis, there is a remarkable omission. Instead of probing the underlying causes of Greece’s troubles there’s a bizarre blame game in which every player is intent on holding someone else responsible.

The list of potential culprits is long. Not surprisingly the alleged greed of Greek workers and the laxness of the Greek authorities are among the favourites. Financial speculators and the credit-rating agencies are also near the top. Then there is the prevarication of the European authorities and particularly the German government. Even ordinary Germans have come under attack in the British media for being too concerned about their own prosperity to bail out Greece.

All of this resembles a playground game of ‘It’ rather than an attempt to grapple seriously with the crisis. Beyond the ritual denunciations of Greece, and other southern European states, for allowing public spending to surge, there is little discussion of economics. The possibility of a relationship between the state of the real economy and the financial crisis does not even seem to occur to most commentators.

The immediate cause of the crisis was Greece’s difficulties in repaying its debt to foreign creditors. As creditors became increasingly nervous about Greece’s ability to repay its debts, higher interest rates have been demanded, leaving Greece with even more to repay. In effect, the country got caught in a vicious circle from which it could not escape.

Personal details at risk because of LACK OF police security

SENSITIVE information about Victorians may be at risk because Victoria Police lacks appropriate policies to govern the proliferation of the force's laptops, the police data watchdog has said.

The Commissioner for Law Enforcement Data Security, who monitors police use of sensitive information, said that a review last year found the force was missing policies that would ensure information was not transferred or lost from laptops, USB sticks and mobile phones.

The commissioner, David Watts, will not release the review because of security concerns, but documents obtained by The Sunday Age under freedom of information show that it found the force was only partly compliant in ensuring security for its remote and mobile technology.

Mr Watts said the police had ''a way to go'' in ensuring their arrangements with third parties had appropriate security policies. Although the police are moving to put all arrangements on a central register, Mr Watts said he would be happier if the problem was tackled more quickly.

The freedom-of-information documents reveal many of the arrangements with third-party organisations do not comply with the commissioner's standards, which are binding on Victoria Police. The documents also reveal the organisations Victoria Police allows access to its data, which includes criminal information on the LEAP database.

These third-party organisations are: customs, the federal police, the Commonwealth agency CrimTrac, Responsible Alcohol Victoria, the Sheriff's office, parking infringement company Tenix Solutions, Corrections Victoria, the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority, NSW police, the Australian Crime Commission, four of the police's IT contractors, the private contractors of the Melbourne Custody Centre, WorkCover, the Transport Accident Commission and VicRoads.

At the request of Police Minister Bob Cameron, Mr Watts is finalising a review of the controversial memorandum of understanding signed between Victoria Police, the private contractors for the desalination plant and the Department of Sustainability and Environment. He is expected to report to the minister soon.

Mr Watts said the issue for him in relation to these types of MOUs was not to prevent the release of police information, but to ensure it was properly authorised.

Victoria Police has been rocked by a series of crises involving its information technology and leaks from databases. In his annual report last year, Mr Watts found Victoria Police did not comply with any of the 11 standards he reviewed in 2008-09.

May 8, 2010

Augementented Reality Launch

Last month Dutch AR master Layar brought us in-app shopping, and now it's gone all Casey Kasem on us. Launching today, Layar Stream is an "augmented reality content discovery engine," which lets you find out which apps are being used the most by people in your vicinity. So, if you're by the seaside, Beachfinder is probably the most popular, while city visitors may find Coffeeshop Finder or Foursquare the most popular.
The service works by creating a list of the most popular AR content in a geographic location on a user's cellphone. Once something is selected from the list, which can be filtered by using keywords, categories, and distance, the phone displays the exact spot where it is. Astonishing new technology, no. Game-changing for location-based info and social media, maybe.

Layar's CEO Raimo van der Kleine explained all to ReadWriteWeb, calling it the "necessary building block to make Augmented Reality part of everyday life." He sees it as a function that will drive traffic to Layar publishers' layers, and help developers understand the firm's algorithms and compares Layar Stream to a printed TV guide for location-based information.
"Augmented reality is a great interface to "consume" experiences that have no relation with the physical world," said van der Kleine, whose app is used by more than 1.6 million people already via their iPhones and Android devices. Symbian is the next OS to get it, and the firm is already in discussions with other handset manufacturers.

With innovative social media-slash location-based ventures popping up everywhere, such as Tagwhat, last month's new kid on the block, AR is developing at a gallop--and Layar is at the front of the field. Its CEO sees the medium as both good for consumers and for companies. "Layar Stream is a great place of 'screen real estate' where we can offer our publishers a way to promote their layers," he said, revealing that the firm is about to start testing in specific markets to see just how its ideas will work for users and partners alike.

May 6, 2010

Facebook Glitch Brings New Privacy Worries

For many users of Facebook, the world’s largest social network, it was just the latest in a string of frustrations.

Facebook asks users to link information in their profiles, which makes that information public.
 
On Wednesday, users discovered a glitch that gave them access to supposedly private information in the accounts of their Facebook friends, like chat conversations.

Not long before, Facebook had introduced changes that essentially forced users to choose between making information about their interests available to anyone or removing it altogether.
Although Facebook quickly moved to close the security hole on Wednesday, the breach heightened a feeling among many users that it was becoming hard to trust the service to protect their personal information.
“Facebook has become more scary than fun,” said Jeffrey P. Ament, 35, a government contractor who lives in Rockville, Md. 

Mr. Ament said he was so fed up with Facebook that he deleted his account this week after three years of using the service. “Every week there seems to be a new privacy update or change, and I just can’t keep up with it.”
Facebook said it did not think the security hole, which was open a few hours, would have a lasting impact on the company’s reputation.
“For a service that has grown as dramatically as we have grown, that now assists with more than 400 million people sharing billions of pieces of content with their friends and the institutions they care about, we think our track record for security and safety is unrivaled,” said Elliot Schrage, the company’s vice president for public policy. “Are we perfect? Of course not.”
Facebook is increasingly finding itself at the center of a tense discussion over privacy and how personal data is used by the Web sites that collect it, said James E. Katz, a professor of communications at Rutgers University.
“It’s clear that we keep discovering new boundaries of privacy that are possible to push and just as quickly breached,” Mr. Katz said.
Social networking experts and analysts wonder whether Facebook is pushing the envelope in a way that could damage its standing over time. The privacy mishap on Wednesday did not help matters.
“While this breach appears to be relatively small, it’s inopportunely timed,” said Augie Ray, an analyst with Forrester Research. “It threatens to undermine what Facebook hopes to achieve with its network over the next few years, because users have to ask whether it is a platform worthy of their trust.”
Over the last few months, Facebook has introduced changes that encourage users to make their photos and other information accessible to anyone on the Internet. Last month its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, unveiled plans to begin sharing users’ information with some outside Web sites, and Facebook began prompting users to link information in their profile pages, like their hobbies and hometowns, in a way that makes that information public.
That last change prompted the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group, to file a complaint on Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission.
“Facebook continues to manipulate the privacy settings of users and its own privacy policy so that it can take personal information provided by users for a limited purpose and make it widely available for commercial purposes,” Marc Rotenberg, the group’s executive director, said in a letter to the commission.

May 4, 2010

Cyber security on leaders' agenda today

Government officials and business leaders from around the world are meeting in the US this week to discuss what all agree is an area of common and growing concern: cybersecurity.
The Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit, hosted by the EastWest Institute (EWI), opens in Dallas, Texas, today and will feature three days of discussions on ways to protect the world's digital infrastructure from electronic threats.
Among those scheduled to address the gathering, being held in the wake of sophisticated cyber attacks on Google which the internet giant said originated in China, are President Barack Obama's National Security Advisor James Jones and White House cyber security coordinator Howard Schmidt.
The EWI, a non-partisan think tank, is bringing together 400 government officials, business leaders and cybersecurity experts from China, France, Germany, India, Russia, the United States and nearly three dozen other countries to "map the dangers and areas of cooperation" in cyberspace. Australia has not yet confirmed whether any government officials or staff from the Attorney General's Cyber Security Operations Centre are attending the summit.
"The skyrocketing severity and frequency of cyberattacks against businesses, governments and other institutions globally pose an ominous threat to the stability of the international economy and peace itself," according to the EWI.
"Nations have well established rules of the game on land, sea, air and in outer space," it said. "There is a significant lack of such rules in the fifth common domain - cyberspace."
Ahead of the meeting, the EWI and Public Strategies conducted a survey of government officials, business leaders and cybersecurity experts on their perception of the dangers in cyberspace.
Thirty-four government officials and 103 business executives or experts, many of whom plan to attend the cybersecurity summit in Dallas, responded to the April 19-26 survey, for which they were guaranteed anonymity.
When asked to rate the cyber security threat to governments and businesses on a scale of one to 10 with nine or ten representing a "profound threat," more than 80 per cent of both groups agreed that the threat ranked a six or higher.
Forty-eight per cent of both groups said they faced a "profound threat" while only three per cent from each category said they faced "no threat."
Only four per cent of the government officials and eight per cent of the business leaders and cyber security experts rated the security of government computer systems and those of businesses as "very secure."
Sixty-seven per cent of government officials said their computer grid was "not very secure" while one in three business leaders and experts said the computer systems of businesses in their country were not very secure.
"The consensus on threat levels is quite high," said EWI vice president Andrew Nagorski. "There's a general understanding that if there are major cyber attacks this is going to have a major economic impact."
Participants in the survey also agreed that international tensions are likely to escalate if concerns over cyber security are not addressed.
Sixty-seven per cent of the government officials said that if current cyber security policies prove ineffective, "deteriorating relations, angry recriminations and growing distrust" could result among countries such as China, India, Russia and the US.
Fifty-one per cent of the business leaders and experts expressed the same fear.
"This survey demonstrates how much more we need to do to implement policies that keep pace with the breakneck speed of technological advances," said EWI president and chief executive John Edwin Mroz.
"We need private-public partnerships and we need international cooperation to make cyberspace safe and secure," he said. "These results point to an urgent need to build trust, not only between countries but also between governments and businesses on a global level."
The summit, which runs till Wednesday, is substantially smaller than other security conferences. Although more than 400 government officials and industry executives from 30 countries were expected to attend, that pales in comparison with the thousands who have attended the annual Black Hat and DefCon conferences in Las Vegas, which focus on hackers' demonstrations of their latest research.
Still, Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at computer-security software maker McAfee Inc., said the conference "has a lot of potential because of the stakeholders that are involved."
"I think it's going to be a first step," said Alperovitch, who is participating on a panel talk on national security. "Right now we have situations where many countries are speaking past each other. The Google attacks are a great example of that. That's just not productive or helpful to any country, and I think having a frank and open conversation between all parties is critical."

May 2, 2010

Residue in flu jab causing kids' reactions: scientist

A LEADING researcher claims to have identified why the seasonal flu vaccine is causing an outbreak of adverse reactions in children, including high temperatures, fits and convulsions.

Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, a Flinders University immunologist, says an experiment he carried out indicates that large amounts of viral genetic residue created by the vaccine's manufacture were overloading infants' immune systems.

The experiment left him in "absolutely no doubt" that high levels of the residue in the form of RNA (the viruses' genetic blueprint) were the cause.

Professor Petrovsky's claims were supported by Melbourne immunologist Professor Bryan Williams, whose team at the Monash Institute of Medical Research is at the forefront of research into how the immune system detects infection.

"I was planning to design my own experiment to test this, before I heard about Professor Petrovsky's result," he said.

This year's vaccine contains more RNA than previous years, because it consists of several inactivated seasonal strains of influenza virus combined with the pandemic H1N1 swine flu strain. Professor Petrovsky says RNA extracted from the flu vaccine triggered an "enormous reaction" in human immune-system cells in vitro.

Professor Petrovsky is founder and chief executive of Vaccine Limited, which has developed a system for producing vaccines in genetically modified insect cells without using viruses themselves.

The method does not produce genetic residue.

Professor Petrovsky said it was ''amazing that the regulatory system still doesn't require manufacturers like CSL to measure the amount of contaminating RNA, despite 50 years of data showing that RNA levels can vary greatly from vaccine to vaccine''.

''It's a nonsensical way to make a reliable product for human medical use,'' he said.

A CSL spokesman declined to respond...