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Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

The dangers of using that Facebook personality game

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Image by Ludovic Bertron used under Creative Commons License

Image by Ludovic Bertron used under Creative Commons License

Tends to find fault with others o these questions look familiar?

  • Tends to find fault with others
  • Is relaxed, handles stress well
  • Is emotionally stable, not easily upset
  • Is easily distracted
  • etc

A large percentage of Facebook users have played with these "personality analysis" games at least once in their life (some do them regularly). Why not? It's a fun way of finding out if a "test" will evaluate you the same way you evaluate yourself... right? WRONG!

These online games and questionnaires are known as the OCEAN test and rate you against 5 psychological traits:

  1. Openness
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism

What may seem like a fun way to spend a few minutes and then boast to your friends about the results may be a firm performing deep psychometric analysis of you. 

We believe companies like Cambridge Analytica have been using these Facebook games as a toolkit to build psychological profiles representing millions of users worldwide. 

The company claimed it had data on around 230 million adults in the USA and approximately 4000 “data points” on every one of them, including gym and club memberships, charity donations, and card transactions.
— First Post, https://goo.gl/SxG5dK

They collect this incredible treasure trove of data by creating enticing Facebook games and questionnaires. Usually they provide a quick peak at your OCEAN score summary but then using Facebook tools, they can associate that psychological snapshot with your Facebook profile and real name. This link to your online/offline self is what makes this practice controversial and the term used to describe it is onboarding.

Cambridge Analytica has said they have 3000-5000 data points for each of the 230 million psychological profiles they track. These data points may include age, income, debt, hobbies, criminality, purchase history, religious/secular beliefs,etc.

The pedigree

Cambridge Analytica is a spin-off of British firm SCL (Strategic Communication Laboratories  https://goo.gl/iuh9gz) which is known tp have performed PsyOps (Psychological Operations) counter-terrorism in war torn countries like Afghanistan.

The Trump efffect

During the last hotly contested US election, the media repeated a fact over and over "that the trump campaign wasn't using traditional media advertising". The media was right. Instead of traditional macro targeting, Trump turned to Cambirge Analytica (first used by his adversary Cruz) to win voters or dissuade voters of his opposition.

When you bake a good cake it’s the sum of the ingredients ... it’s actually flour, and eggs, and ginger, and everything else. And that’s what we’re looking at,[...]
— Alexander Nix, CEO Cambridge Analytica to NBC News - https://goo.gl/uqs0GA

The real problem lies with lax privacy laws implemented in the US. In Europe, most countries have strict data protection and privacy laws severely limiting the second or third hand use of personal data about their citizens. The US has no such protection for its population which means data brokers can access a treasure trove of (often) very private and personal data about its targets. This is how true, powerful and proven micro-targeting is implemented at its best.

Facebook is doing very well. They successfully moved to mobile and their increased profitability from advertising shows it. They are sticky now with 1.71 billion monthly active users. Stickiness doesn't tell the true story. The question is how much was each user worth to Facebook? 

  • A global user generates $3.82 a user per year (up from $2.76 a year ago)
  • A USA user generates $14.34 a user per year (up from $9.30)

The power of Facebook advertising isn't so much the reach but the micro-segmentation it makes available is. This micro-segmentation is possible because facebook knows who you are, where you live/work, who your friends are, what you like/dislike, how much you make and much more. I wrote an article entitled Facebook knows more about you than you realize

What are dark posts?

To continue the discussion, we need to talk about something called Dark Posts or Dark Ads. In simple term, they are posts using news feed style layouts visible in your feed but not actually posted in it. Confused yet? Because they aren't traditional advertising posts cluttering up your newsfeed, you are less likely to "hide" the advertising which otherwise would look like spam. Imagine how powerful this becomes for companies performing A/B testing.  They could run multiple ads against the same person in one day without looking like SPAM.

Think of these as special newsfeed items seen only by the person being targeted, all the wile looking like "normal" posts (not jumping out as advertising) and being temporary. 

Let's make the cake

So take the power of Cambridge Analytica and merge it with the hidden advertising of Facebook dark posts and this is (we believe) what allowed Trump's digital marketing team to serve the right ad to the right voter at the right time. 

A good example is the divisive issue of gun ownership. A gun owner profiled to be anti-establishment could be shown ads about how the opposition wants to weaken the USA by taking guns away (the national anthem playing in the back with a flag waving in the wind). A gun owner with strong religious family values could be shown a pleasant message about how father and son could bond over hunting, alone in the wilderness [but that the opposition would make guns illegal and take this beautiful bonding opportunity away].

Dark ads with good psychological profiles can also be used to create apathy and encourage some opponent voters not to turn out therefore reducing the power of the opponent. Trump created anti Hillary ads pushing out negative messages (Hillary claimed to carry hot sauce with her (link))

Conclusion

What may seem as a simple and fun way to spend 5 minutes could allow a company, well funded group or government to psychologically manipulate you without you ever becoming consciously aware. 

I hope that by sharing this blog article, you will be a little more careful and a lot more distrustful about what you see on Facebook.

First look at the Bose QC-30 Bluetooth noise-cancelling earphones

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Apple hates ports and will kill each and every one of them come hell or high water. The iPhone 7 / 7 Plus pushed the market away from wired headphones into the loving arms of Bluetooth. Audiophiles will explain that Bluetooth has limited bandwidth which means audio fidelity is severely compromised and they are right. Bluetooth can't match the quality of a good set of wired headphones, but let's be honest, most people aren't listening to high quality audio tracks fed through a good headphone amp and $1000 headphones. Most people are streaming their music via Google Play Music, Apple Music, Spotify or Pandora at 128/256 kbps (some are now streaming 320kbps). 

For the geeky reader, a CD ... Yes that plastic disk us old people use to play music from ;-)  So a music CD was 44.1 kHz x 16 bits x 2 channels = 1411.2 kbps, just for comparison.  

Let's dive into the new in-ear Bluetooth noise cancelling champ from Bose. 

This is more of a first look at the QC30 and a more in depth review will come later. The Qc30 seems to beat the QC35 when strictly comparing noise cancellation quality.  The QC35 has a 12 step noise cancellation intensity control. Where is this useful? When you may want "some" noise cancellation but still need situational awareness (e.g. using these while walking on a busy street). 

QC use to mean QuietComfort buy now means QuietControl. A slight branding update undertaken by Bose

So the branding change was done because you now (for the first time) have that variable noise cancellation strength. 

Design

Most users assume wireless and light weight go hand in hand but not when it comes to the QC30. The QC30 has that strange neckband that connects to the earbuds. When passing the device around, people liked the headband, were indifferent about it or absolutely ragefully hated it. Regardless of how you feel about it, itis universally regarded as ugly.

The ugly spaceship around your neck is the lifeline of the product housing the battery. Bose promises 10 hours of use per charge which is good for most situations (except the long haul overseas flights to Asia). 

Remember that the QC20 had that in line battery compartment which itself was ugly and relatively heavy. 

The other noticeable improvement is fit. I have normal medium sized ear canals and rarely have fit problems with in-ear headphones. The QC30 seem to fit better than the QC20 did which means improved sound quality and noise isolation

The audio control module has all of the standard controls you expect plus additional buttons to control the level of noise cancellation. After a couple of days, you can control everything by feel because of the unique shape of the control module. 

Sound Quality

Let's cut to the chase,  the noise cancellation delivered by the QC30 is truly spectacular. The noise cancellation of the QC30 is as good as the full sized (over the ear) QC35. The only difference is the QC35 benefits from much better noise isolation in addition to active noise cancellation.

I cannot stress how useful the variable noise cancellation strength feature is. It means you can use this on the plane, on the train or while walking on the street. 

Like every other noise cancellation headphone I have ever tried, sound reproduction typically suffers. The QC30 offer clean and clear low/mid ranges. The highs are were it suffers. Highs are drowned out by the other ranges and don't sound as clean as I had hoped. 

The Bose QC30 offers better sound reproduction than the QC20/20i and the sound-stage is more open and airy. So when comparing it to good headphones, sound quality suffers but is a step up when compared to its older sibling.

The bad

Sound is more bass heavy which may impact your enjoyment of some types of more balanced music.  The on/off slider is badly designed (difficult to figure out if the device is on or off when you aren't using the earbuds. 

The ugly UGLY neckband. 

I have to add the price here. At $299 its a rather considerable investment. Not surprising as this is typically the price range for Bose noise cancellation headphones but still....

Conclusion

There is no perfect device. The truth is that this type of noise cancelling headphone has always catered to a specific affluent customer base. Unlike previous years, the in-ear earbuds now offer noise cancellation on par with the on-ear big brother. 

Sound reproduction is good for noise cancelling headphones/earphone but not as good as "normal" ones. If your primary use isn't while on noisy transit and sound quality is important to you, you may want to look at a non noise-cancelling product. If you need noise cancellation, the QC30 offers sound quality better than its noise-cancelling competitors.

If you are looking for standard in-ear bluetooth headphones with decent sound quality and good battery life, take a look at the JLAB Epic 2

Best wired in-ear noise cancelling headphones

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

A question I receive regularly is "What in-ear noise cancelling headphone do you recommend for travel?" In 2013 my recommendation was the QC20/20i and that recommendation is still valid. The QC20/20i offers the best wired noise cancellation when comparing it to others in the same price category (and of course being wired).

From a pure noise cancellation perspective, the QC20/20i does a better noise cancellation job than my QC25 but the QC25 does an overall better job because it benefits from over-ear noise isolation. When I originally recommended it, the QC20/20i was priced at $299 but can now be bought for $199. 

Usually the next question I receive is regarding sound quality. Let me be crystal clear. I have never used a good sound cancelling (active) headphone (on or in-ear) that also offered amazing sound quality. The Bose QC20/20i is no exception. It offers amazing noise cancellation and acceptable sound reproduction. 

Size matters

I have taken  both (QC25 & QC20) on flights to test the differences and the most striking difference is overall size. Even with the origami fold of the QC25, it is massive compared to the QC20. 

I don't wear glasses but if you do, the QC20 is even more attractive because it allows you to get a good seal (not so with the QC25 and the headband).

Love at first listen

The real test is how much you use it. Several dozen readers have purchased the QC20/20i (based on emails I received) and everyone of them I contacted as a follow-up said they never leave home without it. One reader is a tech exec that travels over 350K miles a year and said "this is the most used and useful travel tool I have ever bought".

Comparing the QC20/20i to the QC30

I will be testing and reviewing the QC30 soon. Stay tuned but remember the QC30 is bluetooth and therefore it needs batteries.

Free Google app to scan all your physical pictures powered by magic

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

The title may have been just a little exaggerated but most people, computational photography does feel like magic. Google knows you have boxes of photos just collecting dust and deteriorating. Our unofficial benevolent leader (aka Google) has decided to use its computer science chops to help Joe Regular digitize those boxes of old photos without having to fork over $500 for a flatbed scanner or spend hours retouching pictures.

The app takes multiple pictures of each photo and completely get's rid of glare. Then it automatigically  performs edge detection, perspective correction and smart rotation.

If you so chose, you can then upload your new digital cherished memories into the loving arms of Google Photos. 

If you are a computer geek and want to understand the magic of computational photography in an easy to understand manner, check out the new NAt & Lo video below.

Download the free app now:

 

The hidden danger of using the SkyRoam global WIFI Hotspot

GeneralEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

November 25 2016 update at the end of the article. TL;DR the service is still vulnerable.

Since I traveled a lot in the past, I am always looking for new tech to make travel simpler,. easier or more enjoyable. Since smartphones are indispensable travel tools, I was very excited when SkyRoam was released and wrote several articles about it. 

But as a security guy, there is a hidden danger that I wanted to share with my audience. The danger is present even before you take your first trip and is related to how to you add day-passes to your account.

When you visit their portal, you are greeted with this login page

Notice that the page you are on is not encrypted

This means that anyone can easily intercept your username/password as you type it in. 

The page does not even temporarily switch to encrypted during the login. Everything stays plain text. This  is completely unacceptable on a modern web where WIFI attacks are easy and fast. Certificates to encrypt the connection are cheap and readily available (even free with services like LetsEncrypt) . So companies have no excuse not to encrypt the connection: its either incompetence or a complete disregard for the security of their users (in my opinion). 

I recommend you go in and delete your default payment info on file. To  do this, click on the Account tab and then choose payment options and delete it.

I have daypasses which I will consume but wont add any more due to their lax stance regarding security, particularly the security of my credit card and login information. Even the credit card entry page is not protected.

This is pretty bad and I'm not sure how Visa and Mastercard aren't intervening. To be transparent, I have tweeted this issue multiple times over the last 3 months. When I didn't receive a response, I called their helpdesk 3 weeks ago and told the agent to open a ticket. When I did not receive a confirmation email (about a ticket being opened), I opened another ticket myself with a screenshot and clear description a week ago. I never received a response and the issue was never fixed.

Look for alternatives

I am anxiously waiting for the arrival of the GeeFi global hotspot which is expected to provide LTE service for $9.99 with unlimited bandwidth. Based on everything I have read, I am relatively sure GeeFi will take better security precautions and will be a better custodian for my confidential information. 

November 25 2016 UPDATE

Some people messaged me that the site was protected so let me check

The login page is still unencrypted

Main account page still unencryped

When you visit the page to add a credit card, they show a lock logo while its loading 

but that entire page is unencrypted

Even though someone from SkyRoam promised the issue would be resolved (9 days ago), it is still unprotected and I therefore I would still urge caution.