Good morning! It seems we’ve all woken up in a conspiracy theorist’s fever dream, so I hope your wore your finest tinfoil hat to work.
Yesterday opened with the revelation that the NSA is collecting phone records for millions of Verizon subscribers on a daily basis. If that wasn’t Orwellian enough, then came another bomb from the Washington Post. As part of a program called PRISM, the NSA is collecting information from several major tech companies–Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and finally Apple. The Post claims the agency is grabbing “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”
We know all this, by the way, thanks to a disturbed whistle-blower, who sent PowerPoint slides about the program. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” he told the Post. Hello and welcome to your cyberpunk future!
Today in brilliant ideas: Verizon’s security blog tells the story of an employee at an unnamed company who decided to outsource his job to China so that he could “watch cat videos” all day.
When the company noticed that someone from China was using the VPN of the employee (named “Bob”) to login, they called their telecommunications company, Verizon, to investigate. Verizon initially thought it was some type of malware, but it turned out that the company just had an amazingly lazy genius on their hands.
When last we checked in on creepy technologies that wholly encroach on your sense of personal privacy, Microsoft had registered a patent that would allow the Kinect to detect how many people are in a room and stop playback on a movie if it sensed more people than the copyright allowed. But a new patent filed by Verizon takes that concept a step further by allowing a set-top box to observe what’s going on in your house and serve you ads based on what it hears.
Perhaps it’s time for a burner phone? The New York Times reports that the NYPD has begun quietly and methodically accumulating heaps of call logs and putting them into a searchable database called the Enterprise Case Management System.
It works like this: When someone has their cell phone stolen, the NYPD frequently subpoenas the call logs for that phone, hoping that if the thief used the phone, the recordings will provide evidence that can help track him or her down. But instead of deleting the logs after closing the case, they continue to exist in the NYPD’s database, and could “conceivably be used for any investigative purpose.”
Anyone in the New York/New Jersey region knows how hard it was to make a call or send a text message in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Simply dialing up your parents to let them know you were okay resulted in many a frustrating dropped call, “mobile network not available” message or weird busy signal. Not to mention that those who lost power were left without a way to charge their typically omnipresent communication devices.
Law and Order
While waiting for your data to transfer from an old cell phone to a new one, who hasn’t experienced that flash of fear that the Verizon employee doing the transfer will sneak a peek at your text messages? (You really should come up with a better code word for weed than “green.”) Still, most of us believe that they can’t really get into that much trouble while you’re standing there watching them…right?
Zappos’ Tony Hsieh is using his empire to help revitalize downtown Las Vegas. “I first thought I would buy a piece of land and build our own Disneyland.” [New York Times]
Sources say the SEC’s probe into Facebook’s IPO has found no evidence that the company withheld information from investors. Good news for those seeking relief for the stock dive in civil court: Whether retail investors were led astray by misleading info from brokers still remains to be seen. [Bloomberg]
BuzzFeed is opening a Los Angeles bureau; prepare for a lot more celebrity photo lists. [BuzzFeed]
Internet service providers like Verizon and Time Warner have launched the Copyright Alert System, a new warning feature that will send notes to customers they’ve found are pirating content. Users who ignore these messages could even have their connections throttled, because ISPs will pretend to care about piracy if it gives them an excuse not to pay for bandwidth. [CNN]
Shopping for glitzy gowns just got a lot easier. On Friday, Rent the Runway introduced a new feature that replaces models with everyday women, “allowing visitors to search for women of a certain age, height, weight and even bust size, to see how that dress looks on someone similar.” [New York Times]
Where Did I Put My Data?
What’s a girl got to do to get some affordable data service around here? Americans are putting more money than ever towards their smartphone bills, and carriers don’t seem inclined to cut their rates any time soon. But the Wall Street Journal says one company wants to break the stalemate, with dramatically less expensive 4G offerings. The question is whether they can pull it off.
FreedomPop, which launched today, will offer users five gigabytes of data for $35, and one gig for $10. Compare that to the $80 or so six gigs will run you at Verizon, and suddenly you’ve got a lot more money for steak dinners.
There are, however, a couple of bumps in the road to adoption.
Bills Bills Bills
Americans’ smartphone bills are looking pretty onerous these days. How bad has it gotten? According to the Wall Street Journal, people are cutting back on dinners out and other such vices in order to sustain their ravenous Netflixing of Homeland episodes while waiting at the dentist’s office. And with carriers pushing back on unlimited data plans, matters are only getting worse.
Smart Enough Home
Smartphone sales aren’t going to grow indefinitely, and carriers are starting to look around for new lines of business. Hence, down south in New Orleans, at the annual CTIA wireless conference, AT&T just announced its plans to expand into home security. Yes, you read that right.
PC Mag has details. AT&T will install and monitor the system, but users will also be able to watch and remotely fiddle with things like their door locks, thermostats, and CO2 detectors. (Actually, that sounds like a good way to keep tabs on the cat from one’s work computer. Just a thought.) Why go with AT&T instead of market leader ADT, which you might recognize from their mildly terrifying old commercials? According to the company: