Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Facebook

Snapchat usage grows among teens

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
twitter-292994.jpg

Pew Research publishes interesting surveys, and they recently shared results about what teens use most. Contrary to public opinion, Snapchat is still king with teens, followed by Youtube. Facebook usage amongst teens is down 71% compared to the 2014-2015 Pew report. 

  • 45% of teens admitted to being online "almost constantly."
  • 24% of teens admitted to being online "several times a day."

Girls are more likely to be "almost constantly" online (50%) compared to boys (39%). 

Provided by Pew Research

Provided by Pew Research

Instagram is still going strong and 72% of teens now use it (up from 52% in 2015). 70% of teens use Snapchat (up from 41% in 2015). 

Most platforms have an equal amount of creation and consumption except Youtube, where the most significant proportion is consumption. 

You will notice that Snapchat and Instagram have higher usage than Facebook. Interestingly you will note:

  • Instagram/Snapchat are designed to post pictures, whereas Facebook supports photos but videos, links, text updates, etc.
  • Instagram/Snapchat are designed to be used on a smartphone, whereas Facebook is multiplatform. This is confirmed when the stats show that 95% of teens have or have access to a smartphone (88% of teens have access to a computer at home).

31% of teens believe social media has a positive impact on their lives while 24% think it has a negative one. 45% believe it has a neutral effect on their lives. 

Was Google, Apple, Facebook & Microsoft traffic redirected to Russia?

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
network-2402637_1280.jpg

TL;DR: Internet traffic to and from major tech companies (Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitch, NTT Communications and Riot Games) were redirected through a Russian provider Wednesday. This appears to have been a deliberate hijack and not an error. 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BGP is a routing and reachability protocol used on internet backbones around the world. It is what allows carriers to find routing information between each other (in simple terms).

2 BGP monitoring services have reported short changes to the routing of key internet giants, and they do not believe this was a mistake. 

BGPMon recorded two three-minute hijacks affecting roughly 80 address blocks.

One of the interesting things about this incident is the prefixes that were affected are all network prefixes for well known and high traffic internet organizations. The other odd thing is that the Origin AS 39523 (DV-LINK-AS) hasn’t been seen announcing any prefixes for many years (with one exception below), so why does it all of sudden appear and announce prefixes for networks such as Google?
— BGPMon

Qrator Labs recorded a two-hour hijack affecting 40 to 80 address blocks.

Qrator dashboard for the offending AS

Qrator dashboard for the offending AS

As mentioned in the BGPMon release, AS39523 is a Russian organization that has been inactive for years. The last time we saw them, they were involved in another BGP "incident" that involved Google.

Luckily most of the traffic that passes through these providers is encrypted at a level that is believed to be currently unbreakable. The concern is that a state-sponsored attacker could have new decryption algorithms that are not yet publicly known and it does means the traffic "could" have been decrypted (however unlikely it remains a possibility). 

Best 360 degree camera for consumers

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Nokia Ozo. Photo courtesy of Nokia.

Nokia Ozo. Photo courtesy of Nokia.

360 degree videos are the new THING because they capture more of the experience you are trying to share. Facebook, Youtube & Twitter all support this new more immersive medium. So the question is "What's the best 360 degree consumer video camera available?" Good question considering your local BestBuy has over a dozen in store and on display.

Having tested about a dozen of them, the best one is still the Ricoh Theta S. 

img_s_mainVisual.png

Ricoh

Theta S

Why the Theta S? First it is easy to use. You press that big button and it starts to record. It has built in WIFI that allows you to review the captured content or control the camera with your smartphone. Last but not least, it captures good quality video.

Video is good but not great

When buying one of these devices, it is important to understand that you will get good video but it won't be an ultra sharp crystal clear 4K video (like one coming from a mid priced DSLR). The video quality will be good and acceptable but the manufacturers chose not to go super high quality because the stitching would require too much horsepower. 

Some technical specs

So what kind of sensor does this little device have? It has 2 12 megapixel sensors and  ultrawide 240 degree lenses. The camera then processes these two inputs and automatically created one 14 megapixel video (at 1080p) that automatically hides the camera. 

Pair this 360 degree video with some kind of VR headset (even a cheap Google Cardboard) and you get wonderfully imersive video that feels like you are in the moment. You can move around and see everything. This means you (as the photographer) have to consider this immersive experience when taking the video. Be cognizant of how you are holding the camera. 

Let's talk quality of video

So the Ricoh Theta S produces some very good video with good color reproduction (even is low light situations). Using the smartphone app, you can tune basic settings like exposure compensation, shutter speed, ISO and go fully manual (which I don't recommend).

Video clips can be up to 25 minutes long. Let's be honest, you videos shouldn't be longer than this anyway.

Let's talk device in hand

The Ricoh Theta S is a slim device which means it is easy to hold even for people with smallish hands. It is thin and long and a bit thick (which makes holding the device easy and comfortable).

It has a nice easy to hold onto plastic surface that has good grip. It has a standard tripod mount on the bottom which means you can easily mount this to any tripod (including a flexible Joby Griptight).

The device is easy to use and allows you to quickly switch from 360 degree videos to 360 degree pictures and back. All without having to fiddle with finicky menus or having to use the smartphone app. You can turn WIFI on or OFF (WIFI sucks battery so turn it off when not needed).

Let's talk battery life

Richoh doesn't provide good information about battery life. Assuming you are using the device for videos and have WIFI tuned off, you can expect about 1 hour of use time on a single charge. The device does not have a removable battery so you'll have to charge it with a portable battery when in the field. 

It's a 360 degree video

The output from the device is either a JPG or MP4 file with metadata identifying it as a 360 degree video. You can upload this to Youtube, Facebook, Twitter or Flickr and it will identify the file appropriately and then perform all of the required processing in the background to make it immersive and navigable.

Each 1 minute of video consumes about 100MB of storage and if you transfer it via WIFI to your phone will take 3-5 minutes. During this time you have to leave the app open and therefore won't be able to do anything on your device (or you can transfer it via USB if you have a laptop).

The free Theta+ or Theta+ video apps let you edit videos and even create non 360 degree cropped output files. They are fairly basic but allow you to add text, music or trim the video length.

When possible, use a tripod (even a mini one) to hold the camera otherwise you are likely to see fingers in the shot as you press the recording button. Or use the smartphone app to start/stop recording.

It can live stream

The Ricoh Theta S can also live stream when connected to a desktop with the special Theta software loaded on it (Mac and Windows). To enable live streaming you "Press the shooting mode button and power button of the camera together". 

You can live stream your 360 degree masterpiece to Youtube or Facebook. You may want to add the free OBS Studio app to the streaming mix.

Important considerations

  • First is the price. At roughly $350US it isn't a cheap product and it can't be your main or only recording device. 
  • It doesn't shoot in 4K. Considering most people will be viewing this content on VR visors, smartphones or in web browsers, this should be a major problem but it is important to remember.
  • The built in 8GB of storage (no SD Card support) is annoying. It's major competitors (Nikon Keymission 360, Samsung Gear 360 and Insta360 all accept nano SD cards).
  • Without a removable SD card, you also can't just "pop out" the card and transfer data at super fast speeds using a USB card reader.
  • If you edit the 360 pictures, some editors will strip the 360 degree marker from the metadata and the uploaded sites won't know that it requires special handling. You can add this back but its a pain.

Conclusion

If you want to buy an affordable, easy to use 360 degree video camera, the Ricoh Theta S is the one to buy today. It offers the right combination of quality, price and features. With everything said and done, it is still early days and the experience still isn't perfect.

I wouldn't recommend my parents go out and buy this. Not yet. Not right now. If you have a desire for 360 degree video then go out and get one. You won't be disappointed as long as you remember it's not a mass market product yet.

For John and Jane Doe, the technology still needs to mature and improve a bit.

 

 

 

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.

Facebook knows more about you than you realize and what to do about it

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Everyone knows what Facebook is and that it is built on the concept of connecting people together to create virtual communities. What people often don't realize is how much data these sites have about you.

A good example was exposed by Huffington Post in an article entitled "Facebook Can Predict With Scary Accuracy If Your Relationship Will Last".

If you doubt the power of data mining, read this Forbes article entitled "How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did"

The security aspects of Facebook

Social Networking sites (like Facebook) thrive when user bases grow and user bases grow when there are strong repeated interactions among its members. These sites are sneaky and try to collect a treasure trove of data from you (directly or indirectly) without the user realizing it. As a user, you need to make a conscious decision about what you tell them and what you share on the site. 

Although interactions on Facebook may feel more secure because they are in Cyberspace, I encourage everyone to use the same rules of engagement as they would in the real world
  • Understand that you are not anonymous
  • Understand that anything you post cannot be truly deleted and may be shared and reshared without your knowledge or consent
  • Some organizations have privileged access to Facebook information which may come back to haunt you in the future (employment, travel, etc)

Regardless of how rosy you believe the world is, there are unfortunately a handful of bad people that use these sites to collect information about you with the intent to trick, deceive or do other bad things. 

Predators could pretend to be someone else and use these sites to build cyber relationships to encourage you to meet them in person (could be dangerous). A bad actor could use information found on these sites to perform social engineering on you or to someone you know. Someone could user information about your location, hobbies, likes and dislikes to befriend people in your network and then use these relationships to coerce you.

What does Facebook know

Facebook knows more about you than you realize and remember that it doesn't expose everything. A small glimpse of what it knows can be seen in your personal ad preferences (click here).

Expand the sections and see some of the information Facebook has about you and actively uses to target ads. 

Facebook self defense 

Regardless of how many dangers these sites present, they are a fantastic way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. It is this characteristic that keeps people coming back. So what can you do to protect yourself? It's time to develop Facebook-Foo:

  1. It's public - Regardless of the restrictions you place on your post, assume it is public. A friend can take a snapshot and repost it on Reddit. Even on snapchat, I could use a second device to take a picture of the screen and post the content without you knowing. Remember that anything you post can be public and you'll be much better off.
  2. Don't make it personal - Limit personal information as much as possible. Think before you post. Looking at your feed, people shouldn't be able to determine patterns (which coffee shop you visit every morning) or personal information (picture of your kids daycare). Remember that you want to protect your information from "friends" and also the social network itself. Every smartphone picture you post contains GPS location data. This data may not be shared by the site but is definitely used by the site to build a more complete profile about you.
  3. Stranger Danger - We tell kids to be weary of strangers but we neglect this good information when working online. Remember that anything can be fake online. In social engineering, we commonly copy the profile information of people and use it to make connections to targets. We steal information from LinkedIn, Facebook and any other sources to improve the chance you will connect with us. 
  4. Check your settings - I recommend you periodically check your Facebook profile settings and the permissions you have granted apps to connect to your facebook profile. Most connected apps are fine but a nefarious one may use this authorization to steal your info and use it against you. I wrote an article in 2012 about a service that helps check your site permissions. The service may have changed but it is a good idea to perform this check every quarter.
  5. Be a skeptic - I see dozens of spammy fake posts every day on Facebook shared by friends. People share content without looking into the validity of the articles so be weary. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Use fact checking sites like Snopes to validate claims before posting or sharing content.
  6. Use strong passwords - I recommend you use strong unique passwords for every site you register on. I wrote this 2013 article about how to use WolframAlpha to generate strong passwords and I still use this technique today. Generate strong unique passwords and keep it in a password manager like OnePassword or LastPass (which is almost free now).
  7. Keep your computer safe - For most users, I have started recommending the use of a Google Chromebook as their internet browsing device (or a smartphone or tablet). These devices are much more resilient to attacks and provide protection even if the user is less than diligent. IF you use a traditional computer (PC or Mac), make sure you keep your software updated, use a good antivirus and never run unknown third party software.If you receive a file and want to double check it before running it, use a site like VirusTotal to give yourself some peace of mind.
  8. Keep children safe - Talk to children about the dangers of social sites early and help them navigate this maze. They need to understand that anything they post will be with them for the rest of their lives. The internet does not have a delete key.

Related:

  • What is Facebook doing with my data?  (BBC)
  • 98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you (Washington Post)
  • Facebook Is Expanding the Way It Tracks You and Your Data (The Atlantic)