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Thursday, October 23, 2014

See a Comet’s Close Encounter With Mars

See a Comet’s Close Encounter With Mars


See a Comet’s Close Encounter With Mars

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 11:21 AM PDT

The comet known as “Siding Spring” had a too-close-for-comfort encounter with the Red Planet this week.

Traveling at around 125,000mph, the comet missed colliding with Mars by a mere 87,000 miles. That’s about one-third of the distance between the Earth and the Moon — in astronomical terms, a very close encounter.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the encounter in this composite image. Sadly, it will be another million years before we see comet Siding Spring again, after it completes its orbit around the sun.

See an artist’s rendition of the encounter in the video below:

This Pumpkin Spice Rap Video Confirms That We All Need to Just Cool It With the PSL Jokes

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 11:16 AM PDT

Look, we get it. For whatever reason, it’s fun to mock the seasonal beverage/cultural craze known as the pumpkin spice latte.

So now that there’s a rap video dedicated to the beverage — which you can watch above — it’s time for everybody to just cool it. Girls love to wear sweaters and drink pumpkin spice lattes. Okay. Whatever. Can we just stop?

Man, as great as autumn is, now I’m kind of excited for winter, when the PSL jokes will finally slow down. But then, before we know it, Starbucks’ “chestnut praline” latte will be the new thing and everyone will start making raps about that. Time really is a flat circle. A flat, green, mermaid-filled circle.

Treasury Department’s Anti-Terrorism Chief Says Cutting Off ISIS Funds Of High Importance

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:58 AM PDT

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is the “best-funded” terrorist organization the U.S. has ever confronted, the Treasury Department’s top official for combating terrorist financing said Thursday.

Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday David Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at Treasury, outlined a multi-pronged strategy for cutting off ISIS’s access to resources — including as much as $1 million per day in oil sales.

Touching on a topic of heated international debate, Cohen also called on foreign governments to refuse ransom payments to free their kidnapped citizens from terrorist groups.

Because ISIS “poses a different terrorist financing strategy,” than other terror groups, the strategy against it has to look different, Cohen said. Unlike other major terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, which are primarily reliant on wealthy donors, ISIS gets most of its funding not from the illegal market sale of oil, as well as from ransoms and extortion.

Although ISIS conducts most of its business on the black market, Cohen said the Treasury Department can disrupt the group’s finances by identifying and targeting people who operate within the legitimate economy but who also trade illegally with ISIS.

“The middlemen, traders, refiners, transport companies, and anyone else that handles [ISIS]’s oil should know that we are hard at work identifying them, and that we have tools at hand to stop them,” Cohen said during prepared remarks.

The U.S. government is prepared to impose financial sanctions on both ISIS’s leadership and its financial donors. Cohen said Thursday that two individuals were sanctioned in late September, including a military commander and a person who arranged a $2 million donation to the organization. But the effort will take time, Cohen noted, and will require “cooperation and collaboration with partners in the region,” including private sector banks in Iraq and Syria that might be used to store ISIS cash.

He also urged more countries to refuse ransom payments when their citizens are kidnapped. “If we are to protect our citizens and avoid bankrolling our adversary, every country must adopt and implement a no-ransoms policy,” Cohen said. The U.S. does not pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens, even in cases of threatened execution. Some European governments have reportedly paid millions to free hostages from ISIS and al Qaeda.

“[ISIS] has a fair amount of money today, but what’s important is that we do everything we can to make sure it’s not recurring revenue,” Cohen said. He added that, although ISIS generates an estimated $1 million per day from illegal oil sales, even that figure isn’t enough to meet the needs of the people living in the vast territory the group controls. In areas where ISIS now operates, he said, the Iraqi government’s budget surpassed $2 billion this year.

But he counseled patience as the financial prong of the war on ISIS unfolds in tandem with U.S.-led air strikes against the Sunni radical group.

“This is not going to be an exercise where we can at the end of every month produce a balance sheet,” Cohen said. “This is going to be a steady effort to degrade financing over time.”

Young Iranians Stay Home in Fear of Acid Attacks

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Nazar Street is one of the most liberal streets in Isfahan, a historic city 340 kilometers south of Tehran. Young men and women mix more freely than elsewhere and women wear their hijabs more loosely, revealing more hair than the law allows.

But this week, the street was quiet and its restaurants empty as people avoided public places in the wake of a series of acid attacks on young women. Eight women have been badly injured after having acid thrown in their faces by unidentified men in recent weeks causing fear and anger in the city.

Thousands protested Wednesday in Isfahan to demand security for women, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency. Demonstrators, including many mothers, worried for the safety of their daughters. “Security and freedom are our indisputable rights!” they shouted. “Down with Iran’s Daesh,” refererring to the Arabic acronym for the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Soheila Joerkesh, 26, was driving back from an afternoon out swimming with her friends on Oct. 13 when she pulled over to speak with her mother on the phone. Just as she had started to speak, a motorcycle stopped beside her car and a passenger got off with a glass canister in his hand. “Suddenly Soheila started screaming, I could hear her scream for more than 5 minutes before the call got cut,” her mother told local media. “By the time we found her at a hospital she was blind. Her cellphone had been melted by the acid that the motorcyclist had thrown onto her face.”

All of the victims have been young women who were attacked on busy main streets by male motorcyclists or passengers throwing acid on their faces. The women have suffered third-degree burns on their faces, necks, chests and hands, and will require cosmetic surgery.

Many women in Isfahan now fear going out. “One of my colleagues has her husband drive her to and back from work. Another says she nearly dies from fear whenever a motorcycle passes her car. I myself take the bus now as it seems safer,” Fatemeh, a female resident of Isfahan said on Wednesday, asking for her surname not to be published. “We are all worried, we only leave home when it is absolutely necessary.”

Women in Iran have been required by law, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, to dress modestly and not wear cosmetics. The enforcement of morals is one of the duties of the Basij militia. Many women, however, have resisted and flaunt the rules by leaving parts of their hair exposed. Members of hardline religious groups have staged demonstrations protesting what they call the decadent clothing of women. This has led to rumors that some members of these groups are behind these attacks.

“People are saying it’s a group called Ansar trying to force women to have proper hijab. I don’t know if that’s true, but many are now using masks to cover their faces to escape possible attacks, which is ironic, as the attacker didn’t even feel the need to cover his face,” Fatemeh said, pointing to reports that the culprits had not gone to any trouble to hide their identities.

Most of Iranian society has reacted angrily to the attacks.

“Throwing acid is an ugly, heinous and disgusting act, maybe murder is more acceptable, this crime is despicable,” General Esmaeel Ahmadi-Moghadam, head of the Iranian police, told the Fars News Agency on Wednesday. And the deputy head of the Judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, told state television two days earlier that those responsible would receive “such a punishment for the culprits when they are arrested that no one would ever dare commit such crimes again.”

Others said the attacks were carried out by people linked to Western intelligence agencies in a bid to damage Iran. “Today we are seeing the foreign media network trying to link this crime to promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” said General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij paramilitary force, according to news website Mashreghnews.ir.

With none of the assailants arrested yet, many Iranians are posting comments on websites and social media that criticize the police force. Some compared the swift arrests of the makers of the Pharrell Williams’ Happy video in Tehran, “within hours” in May, to the fact that weeks have passed since the first acid attack.

Soheila’s mother struck a similar chord. “We asked them can we look at footage from surveillance cameras in Soheila’s route, but they refused,” she said. “Why are they not showing us the footage?”

Facebook Launches Anonymous Chat App Called ‘Rooms’

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:43 AM PDT

Facebook launched Thursday an anonymous chat room app called Rooms, the latest creation to emerge from the company’s initiative to design more apps connecting people in different ways.

The free app, now available in the App Store, allows users to create chat rooms for shared interests, from makeup mastery to city gardens, according to the app’s website. The app is entirely separate from Facebook and doesn’t require you to provide any revealing details like your name or your location.

Chat rooms are invite-only and require a special code that can be scanned with your phone’s camera, according to Facebook. Codes can be shared on social media, e-mail or even posted on paper in public spaces. Chat room creators or other specified moderators can customize the look, ban people from the room or set the room to be 18+.

Rooms’ development was first reported by the New York Times in early October as an alternative way to connect online aside from the many social media networks, like Facebook, which value or require authentic identities as a means of combating spammers, trolls and cyberbullies. However, Facebook’s real name policy has forced out some users, notably members of the LGBT community who prefer to stay anonymous online. A recent flight of transgender users from Facebook to alternative networks like Ello drew headlines several weeks ago.

Rooms joins a host of other secondary apps recently created by Facebook, including Mentions, a Facebook for celebrities and other public figures released in July; Slingshot, a Snapchat-like service released in June; and Paper, a Facebook app simplified for a mobile device released in February.

Surreal Scene of Migrants Atop Spanish Border Fence

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:39 AM PDT

Among the top issues this year for European countries along the Mediterranean has been how to handle the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who seek a better life within their borders. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants journeyed across perilous routes throughout the year, and in thousands of cases met death before land. Others have attempted to cross into one of the two Spanish enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, that border Morocco.

The latter scene played out again on Oct. 22, and was captured in a picture at the border fence surrounding Melilla that later went viral online. Eleven men are seen sitting atop the fence as a police officer approaches — and as two women play golf below. One is in mid-swing while the other is turned toward the group.

José Palazón, an activist with a migrant-rights group, spotted the men above the golf course and thought it was “a good moment to take a photo that was a bit more symbolic,” he told El Pais. “The photo reflects the situation really well — the differences that exist here and all the ugliness that is happening here.”

Spain’s interior ministry said about 200 people tried to scale the fence that day, according to the Associated Press. About 20 successfully crossed, while another 70 stayed on top of the fence for hours.

Here’s How Well Your Genes Can Predict Your Breast Cancer Risk

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:36 AM PDT

Your genes have a lot to say about who you are and how healthy you are. But for certain diseases, including cancer, so many genes are likely involved that it’s hard for doctors to come up with a useful, reliable way to turn your DNA information into a precise risk score.

But in a paper published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers say that combining the known genetic players in breast cancer can predict with much higher accuracy a newborn girl’s theoretical risk of developing the disease.

MORE: Angelina Jolie’s Surgery May Have Doubled Genetic Testing Rates at One Clinic

Alice Whittemore, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Stanford University School and Medicine, and her colleagues included 86 known genetic variants that have been associated with breast cancer—including BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are relatively rare but confer a very high risk of disease compared to those that have a smaller contribution—and created a computer model that took into account the rates of breast cancer among 120,000 women who had these genetic variants.

This model served as a predictor for breast cancer based on womens’ genetic makeup. When researchers looked at the top 25% of risk scores, they found that these would account for about half of breast cancer cases in the future. Using previous models, genetic variants could account for only 35% of future cancer cases.

“Our results are more optimistic than those that have been previously published,” says Whittemore, “because we took 86 known genetic variants associated with breast cancer, and took what was in the world’s literature about how common those variants are, and by how much a factor they increase risk. And the more genetic variants that are identified, the better we will get at this.”

MORE: BRCA Gene Can Be A Cancer Triple Whammy, Study Finds

Since the paper was submitted, at least two dozen new genetic variants have been linked to breast cancer, and adding those to the model, says Whittemore, could make it more accurate.

But just because a woman may have been born with a high genetic risk for breast cancer doesn’t mean that she can’t change that risk. The study also found that lifestyle factors, which are in a woman’s control, can generally lower the genetic risk by half. And the higher a woman’s genetic risk, the more she can reduce it with healthy behaviors. So avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking, or maintaining a healthy weight, for example, can bring a genetic risk of 30% down to around 15%, while a woman with a 4% genetic risk of developing breast cancer can reduce her risk by 2%.

“The news is that even if you are at high genetic risk of developing breast cancer, it’s all the more reason to do what you can to modify your lifestyle to lower your risk by changeable factors even if your genes aren’t changeable,” says Whittemore.

The Best Browser Privacy Tools (That Don’t Make Life More Difficult)

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:29 AM PDT

In a year when social media giants and governments alike have made headlines for tracking users online without their consent, battening down the virtual hatches has become a vital part of Internet hygiene.

Blocking tracking technologies, however, also disables those handy auto-fill log-ins and web personalization features, preventing you from easily shopping online and making your web experience feel as if you’re back in 1999.

So we went in search of privacy tools that don’t impact your browsing experience. We tested browser tools ranging from the basic Private Mode on all browsers to full-featured ad blockers. We looked at the four most-used browsers in the United States: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. Here’s what we found to be most helpful for safeguarding your privacy and anonymity — and what measures of convenience you might have to give up if you use them.

The lowdown on cookies

Cookies are small text files that contain one or more bits of information about your computer, most commonly a user ID a website assigns you in order to keep track of your movements through the site. Cookies are often essential to using a site successfully, enabling you to check out from shopping sites or click around Facebook without having to repeatedly re-enter your password.

These first-party cookies come from the website you’re on and exist mostly to offer you a personalized web experience. Benefits include greeting you by name, giving you weather data relevant to your home location and keeping track of your achievements in a game.

It’s the third-party cookies from ads on the websites you visit that track you as you move between websites. Advertisers place these cookies in their advertisements, allowing them to follow your movements among the network of sites where they advertise.

Information about your surfing patterns goes toward compiling a profile of preferences and basic personal data — things like location, age and gender — that is used to create targeted advertising. If you’ve clicked on a lot of gardening sites, for example, targeted ad placements could even show you ads for tools or plants on non-gardening sites. If that bothers you, you can disable third-party cookies in your browser settings.

Browse in private mode

Seeing targeted advertising probably doesn’t bother most people if all they’re surfing for is news, cute cat pictures or a new iPhone. But for looking up information about something like health concerns, privacy mode allows you to browse without associating the search with your existing profile.

To open a private window in your browser:

  • Firefox: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P
  • Chrome: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+N
  • Safari: Safari/Private Browsing
  • Internet Explorer: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P

This turns off your web history and enables the cookies necessary for the site to work but blocks third-party cookies. At the end of the session, all cookies are deleted.

The downside

Browsing in private mode does not stop the website from recording that you were there based on your IP address, which can still be tracked. And, crucially, private mode doesn’t stop social networks from tracking you. It’s best used for hiding activity on a shared computer rather than actually remaining invisible online.

Block third-party cookies

Third-party cookies aren’t the only way to track people around the Internet, but disabling them in your browser’s settings means advertisers can no longer store files on your browser to track your web surfing.

Here’s how to block third-party cookies, assuming you’re running the most recent versions of the browsers (a good idea from a security point of view):

  • Chrome: Preferences > Show Advanced Options (at the bottom) > Privacy > Content settings > Check “block third party cookies and site data.”
  • Internet Explorer: Tools > Internet Options > Privacy > Move the slider to the level of cookies you want blocked
  • Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > History > Select “Use custom settings for history,” then set “Accept third-party cookies” to Never.
  • Safari: Preferences > Privacy > Select to block cookies “from third parties and advertisers.”

The downside

Some websites require third-party cookies to work; for example, Microsoft asks you to accept cookies when downloading an update. In these cases, head into your browser settings and add the sites as exceptions.

Block the Flash super cookie

Sites may store Flash cookies on your computer regardless of whether you have allowed third-party cookies. Flash cookies can’t be easily deleted, and they may be downloaded to your computer from any website running Adobe Flash (such as sites with video or an interactive application). Designed to locally store your settings for the rich web apps that Flash enables, the capability for the Flash plug-in to allow other sites to store files in a user’s computer can also be hijacked by advertisers wanting a new way to track Internet users.

Flash cookies can identify you across different browsers on the same device and, in some cases, have been found to regenerate deleted browser cookies. Because they have far more storage (up to 100KB) than other cookies, they can contain more complex information about your habits. Like browser cookies, Flash cookies are used by websites to deliver a customized experience as well as give advertisers extra data.

Cookie cleaners and Flash player settings

Blocking Flash entirely could be an option with script-blockers such as NoScript (Firefox) or ScriptNo (Chrome). However, such plug-ins stop all Flash and Java on all pages, breaking the sites in many cases, until you can customize the settings so that trusted objects and pages can run freely. This can take a long time and represent a pain for the less technically minded.

If you use Firefox, you can download the BetterPrivacy, which automatically deletes Flash cookies as they crop up (as well as clearing cookies already there). You can also whitelist necessary Flash cookies, such as cookies used when playing a game.

If you’re not on Firefox, you’ll have to dig into your computer. First, disable future Flash cookies from being left on the machine. If you’re on a PC, open Control Panel and click on Flash player > Local Storage settings by site. You’ll find the default is “Allow All Websites to Store Data”; change it to “Block All Websites from Storing Data.” Then you can easily delete the Flash cookies by hitting the neighboring Delete All button, followed by “Delete All Site Data and Settings.”

If you’re on a Mac, change your Flash settings online at Macromedia by clicking on Global Storage Settings in the (pretty clunky) Flash-based settings manager. Uncheck the box for allowing third-party Flash content to store data on your computer. Then pull the slider for how much data third-party companies can store on your machine to None (far left).

Finally, to delete sites that have already left cookies on your computer, grab the free download CCleaner (Mac/PC), which deletes both Flash and browser cookies.

The downside

Sites including eBay use Flash cookies to verify your identity, so deleting them across the board can mean needing to re-enter passwords more frequently.

Dodge tracking you never signed up for

Microsoft recently announced it would not scan any of the content in its Outlook.com inboxes to use in targeted advertising, but Google makes no such promise with Gmail — quite the opposite.

As for the social networks, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn track users even after they’ve signed out — and even if you don’t click on a social media sharing button. The very act of landing on a page with a social-share button means it relays back to the social network. Sophos’ security blog has a straightforward account of how Twitter does it and how you can opt out. (Remember that opting out doesn’t stop ads or the collecting of information.)

In addition, Facebook uses an alternative to tracking cookies called a conversion pixel, which advertisers affix to their ads to see how many clicks they get. So a website doesn’t need a Facebook button to let Facebook know you’ve been there.

Anti-tracker plug-in Do Not Track Me (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer) stops a website from sending information back to Facebook or Google unless you actually click one of the +1 or Like buttons. It also blocks other trackers and boasts a clean, intuitive interface for customizing blocking options. The Mask My Email and Make Me A Strong Password features help deter spam and hackers. When you’re signing up for a new account, masking your email address stops potentially dodgy sites from selling your real email address, while the password option creates a hard-to-guess password (that, crucially, isn’t the same as one you already use), then saves it in the plug-in’s encrypted password manager.

On the toolbar, clicking the Do Not Track Me icon shows how many trackers it has blocked — for me, 666 in under 24 hours.

Disconnect (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Opera) is a similar plug-in that offers the additional benefit of dividing trackers into social, analytic and advertising categories. A graph shows the time and bandwidth saved by blocking trackers requesting information, and you get the option of adding trusted sites (and their cookies) to a whitelist.

The downside

There’s little downside to taking any of these anti-tracking measures. The only thing these scrappy little guys don’t do is block ads; you’ll still see them, but they won’t be targeted based on your previous clicks.

Kill most ads

Many companies (including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon) promise to honor opt-outs for “interest-based” advertising. But while opting out stops companies from delivering targeted ads based on what you’ve clicked on, it does not stop ads based on general information such as your location or other details you may have volunteered while signing up for the account. Crucially, it doesn’t stop companies tracking you and collecting your data.

To prevent ads from showing at all, thus thwarting the purpose of tracking via third-party cookies or other means, try a plug-in such as AdBlock Plus (for Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer), which blocks “annoying” ads: video ads, Facebook ads, pop-ups and the like. By default, a whitelist of ads that fall under the developer’s guidelines for acceptability is allowed, but you can change this setting to disable all ads.

You can also add different filters to block more or different types of ads. For example, the anti-social filter blocks social media buttons from transmitting back to the mother ship that you were there, neatly avoiding the all-seeing Facebook eye.

AdBlock Plus also blocks trackers and websites known to deliver malware.

The downside

Blocking ads deprives sites of revenue, and many websites rely on ad revenue to stay afloat. Unless you tinker with the settings for which ads should be allowed at different sites (a process that may take a long time to complete), you may end up depriving your favorite sites of those caching clicks.

Search securely

Two-thirds of U.S. search traffic is made through Google, distantly followed by Microsoft’s Bing (19%) and Yahoo (10%). While Google’s search algorithms turn up highly relevant results for most of us (in May, 31% of all Internet traffic came from Google, versus less than 2% for Bing and Yahoo combined), there’s an additional trade-off: Search results are also personalized based on what you’ve clicked on in the past.

That may not seem like such a big deal until you consider that Google also combines your search history with other information from your Google accounts, such as YouTube and Gmail, for use in targeted ad campaigns. Search histories can reveal highly personal information such as your interests, religion or health issues, substantially filling out the information already compiled from your YouTube clicks and Gmail messages.

Instead of switching to another Big Three search engine, try DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t log your searches so that all users get the same results. In our test, searches for subjects including current events (“Hong Kong protests”), general knowledge (“why is the sky blue”) and straightforward subjects (Halloween costumes), helpful links turned up in the first half of the page. However, when we typed the more ambiguous phrase “Tuscany fall cuisine,” only Google noted that we wanted autumnal food in Italy, not the town called Tuscany Falls.

DuckDuckGo also offers many of the same convenience features as Google, including a good range of “zero-click info.” For example, type “weather in California,” “650 USD in EUR” or any calculator function such as “square root of 60,” and the answer is displayed above a list of link results.

Similarly privacy-centric search providers include Ixquick, which doesn’t store your IP address or search data (and consequently doesn’t sell any of your information), delivering results based on what the five major search engines are saying. Two or more stars indicate multiple search engines have relayed the same result. However, Ixquick lacks the uber-convenient zero-click search.

Finally, the Disconnect anti-tracker plug-in also has a separate search extension that anonymizes your searches in any of the Big Three search engines as well as DuckDuckGo itself.

The downside

Auto-complete in Google Search has been a godsend when it comes to typing searches for news and factoids you can’t quite recall. Not having a search history also means not having those purpled-out links that indicate at a glance which sites you’ve previously visited (handy when you’ve forgotten to bookmark a great source).

The all-in-one option

Not up to fine-tuning settings, cherry-picking plug-ins and switching to a new search engine?

Get a whole new browser. The Epic Browser offers privacy mode as the default and only option. Epic doesn’t store web histories, search queries or cookies. Clicking on a plug icon in the URL bar turns on a proxy feature that anonymizes your computer by routing your traffic through a U.S.-based proxy network.

Epic also blocks trackers with a handy pop-up telling you exactly how many it’s blocked — and just to rub its success in competitors’ noses, it shows how many trackers exist on the other browsers you’re using. On my computer, Firefox had 143 data-collecting trackers (including Amazon, Experian, all the social networks and a ton of ad providers); Safari had 56 (including BuzzFeed, LinkedIn and Tumblr); and my Chrome browser with Do Not Track Me Plus running let through just two (eBay and ad provider Double Click).

The downside

It’s back to the caveman days of manually typing everything in, from passwords to URLs. There’s no auto-fill feature for log-ins or website addresses, because Epic doesn’t store any history. Nor does Epic save passwords, and it doesn’t yet work with password managers, so you’ll either have to remember all your log-ins or save them on your hard drive.

Browsing completely anonymously (mostly)

All of the options we’ve discussed prevent third parties from tracking you within and across websites. However, the website can still see where you came from through your IP address, and that address could be used as an alternate means of tracking your activities. For example, a person or company who disagreed with your comments on a site could use your IP information to track you down and sue you for libel.

To hide your IP address from being uncovered, you will need to use either an anonymous web proxy or virtual private network (VPN) service. Both not only mask your IP address from the website you’re visiting, but will also prevent anyone who monitors your network (e.g., your employer) from monitoring the sites you’re visiting.

The downside

Some of these services have stronger privacy options than others, and many are still susceptible to disclosure if they receive a legal subpoena from the jurisdiction where they’re located. Read our article on VPNs and web proxies for more details.

Future tracking options

What we do online has value to companies now because of what we may buy if we’re shown the relevant advertising. Down the line, we might be the ones negotiating the worth of our web habits.

Encrypt your own web behavior

The Meeco app for iOS recently launched with the ability to log your web visits — where you visited and for how long — and save the traffic into an encrypted cloud accessible only by you. Websites can only see what you click on while you’re on them, not what you do after and before, preventing the site from building a profile of you. The software also analyzes your usage patterns so you can glean insight into your habits — the same insight brands buy from data brokers now. Eventually, the idea is to create a data framework where users can offer such data to brands in exchange for loyalty points, discounts or other incentives.

Founder and CEO Katryna Dow says an aim is to help people understand that the value of their data is invaluable — and, at the moment, immeasurable.

A Meeco browser extension for Chrome and Firefox is available in beta; currently, users must manually add favorite sites to the dashboard, then click them in order to launch the site in the browser’s (natively available) private window.

The downside

Right now, the browser extension does not save the traffic to your Meeco encrypted account (as the iOS app does), but Dow says the company is looking at including the feature in future updates.

Where to draw the privacy line

Being tracked and advertised to by the websites we use is the trade-off for a free Internet. In fact, there are some really good reasons for why you may want to be tracked online,

But not drawing our own line at how much privacy we are willing to give up could mean some companies will cross that line when it comes to where they scrape information about us. Your likes, dislikes and identifying details taken from email, private messages or personal notes could then be linked (as Google already does) to information from other facets of your online life, and companies or the government may eventually make assumptions about who you are before offering you a service. Whether you find that convenient or creepy, it’s something everyone should have control over, not default into.

What do you think? Have you downloaded browser plug-ins to control your privacy, or do you believe that targeted advertising is what makes the Internet go?

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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‘Law & Order: SVU’ Ripped an Episode From My Headline

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:27 AM PDT

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I’m obsessed with “Law & Order: SVU.” But that obsession is reaching a whole new level of absurdity.

You know that whole “ripped from the headlines” tagline? They just ripped mine, and it’s incredibly hard — but insanely riveting — to watch.

Warren Leight, the executive producer of the show was nice enough to let me see an advance copy of “Pornstar’s Requiem” and he agreed to answer my questions about how this entire episode came to be.

When I asked Leight (who used to be executive producer on HBO’s “In Treatment”) why he chose to dramatize my story, he explained, “As usual, we tried to distill several stories and headlines into one character’s journey. You, and others, have made the case that sex work is legitimate professional work, a potentially empowering choice individuals should be able to make without repercussions or stigmatization. Other students who’ve done pornography have not survived the harassment that followed. We wanted to tell their stories, too.”

From the very beginning scene of the episode, which shows “Evie Barnes” (played by actress Hannah Marks), a college freshman at “Hudson University” nervously doing her first porn scene on the day of her 18 birthday, my jaw dropped. Not only is Marks a slim brunette who could be my sister, she is also eerily semi-recreating one of my earliest scenes which was for a rough sex website (I will not give the company any more publicity than they’ve already received). The entire sequence soon after of a frat guy uncovering my secret through watching porn himself was all too real. I’ve never made so much noise watching an episode of “SVU” before as I did watching this, and there were certain instances where all I could say was “Oh my God, oh my God.”

Not unlike how I created the alterego of “Belle Knox,” Evie Barnes takes on the stage name of “Roxxxanne Demay” in the world of hard-core pornography.

She is eloquent but naïve, delivering many speeches during the episode with a few lines cutting me to the core. At one point she says something that felt like hearing my heart speak: “I knew I would be opening myself and my family to judgment and humiliation. But I chose to send a message that people who work in adult entertainment are still people, just like everyone else.”

Since March, when I was outed by a fellow student at Duke, I’ve felt like I was sleepwalking through a David Lynch-style dream that has included everything from hugging Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” to facing a crowd of screaming paparazzi and flashing lights to being asked to trademark a replica of my vagina. This episode of “SVU” flips that dream into a nightmare of how things could just as easily have gone very horribly terribly wrong for me.

I don’t write or discuss my rape often, because I don’t want to be viewed as a porn star cliché, nor do I want people telling me that this is why I’ve made the choices I’ve made, but I know well the chilling rape culture entitlement that comes along with men discovering that I’m a porn star. This is the scenario that plays out on the episode. One of the frat boys accused in “Pornstar’s Requiem” even goes so far as to say to the police the following jaw-dropping line: “I didn’t think you could rape a girl like that.”

Have I heard this before?

Not in those exact words, but in actions and in snide remarks, in the assumptions people make with my body and my livelihood because they have watched me in porn or heard that this is my profession. One man I was associated with professionally actually lent his key card to his friend, and at 2 in the morning, this large and loud, older and incredibly drunk stranger wandered into my hotel room — with his own key. I was terrified. Did he think that because I was a porn star he could just come in? Did he think he could do something with me? And this came from someone I thought I trusted.

Since my outing, when I’ve gone on dates, there have been times when a man has told me quickly, easily and creepily, “You like this [sexual act], right?” without asking for consent or having any discussion to imply that we might make the decision to be intimate together later on. I shut things down, but as occurred in my rape earlier in my life, this has not always been the case.

And this sexual entitlement and double standards (how could a girl who plays out a rape fantasy ever be given the privilege of consent; doesn’t she relinquish that forever if she ever engages in rough play?) is the crux of the episode. Similar to the rough scene I filmed that was my entrée into porn, Evie is smacked — hard — in the course of her filming and the appearance could be interpreted as rape fantasy. While I do not consider what I did to be that, I have heard from others that they do consider it within this purview, and I respect their right to feel that way.

Because Evie does not appear to be giving consent in her rough sex porn film, these frat boys decide that is what she likes. They don’t need her to say yes! Even when she is crying and saying no, it doesn’t count! Why, they have the other film of her as proof.

It makes me want to barf.

I won’t get into the spoilers of the episode (you should watch on NBC), but I’ll share with you what the executive producer told me about the writers’ room and the process for putting the script together.

“The writers’ room had been hashing out a number of overlapping issues lately,” Leight told me. “The increasing number of students who’ve turned to pornography to pay their tuition. How for some of those students, it’s been empowering, but for others, it’s led to horrific slut-shaming. And how a few students have been so stigmatized when their sex work becomes public, they felt driven to suicide. We also had long wanted to do an episode about how hard it is for sex workers to get justice when they are victims of sexual assault. The more we talked about these issues, the more we felt they’d combine well into one episode.”

Evie says at one point during the episode what could be the anthem of anyone who has ever done sex work: “I’m not a slut. They think just because I do porn they can do anything they want to me.”

And then she explains something that many people refuse to accept no matter how many times I try to delineate real life versus porn life. Describing her alterego of “Roxxxanne Demay,” Evie says: “I followed a script. I created a character that was different from myself. I followed an act.”

Because that’s what it is. Porn is an act. Porn stars are acting. In our personal lives we are often still sexual and flirtatious and there might be some crossover, but to categorize porn stars and sex workers as being this lesser-status breed of women who are “unrapeable” is so offensive and mind-boggling, it physically makes my head hurt.

As soon as I heard that my story was being “ripped” for an episode, my gut assured me that “SVU” would give a fair and balanced account “inspired by” what happened and have a strong feminist message against slut shaming. But soon after that, my gut turned nauseous. Happily, all of that nervous energy turned to excitement when I realized what was really happening, bottom line, through the show tackling this important topic: “SVU” was accepting the challenge of viewing consent through the lens of pornography and sex workers, a multifaceted and very necessary dialogue.

Because while Evie is brutally gangraped in a bathroom at a college party, the video evidence taken by her rapists is in no way the slam-dunk that it should be for the prosecution. Instead, it forces a question so insane, so absurd, so enraging I can barely type it without screaming.

Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba (played by Raúl Esparza) actually has to ask, “Do you believe any woman, even a porn star, can deny sex?”

I also found myself cheering whenever Sgt. Olivia Benson (played by the inimitable Mariska Hargitay) said something profound (which was like, all the time), and covering my face when things felt too real. At several points, my cheeks burned hot with rage listening to the evil defense attorney (played by Delaney Williams) who mocks and shames and aims to discredit Evie. It is brutal. It is condescending. And it brought back painful memories of the betting pools started online as to when I would kill myself, the detailed and dedicated websites all devoted to telling the world what a slut and whore I am, and why I deserved to be punched and kicked and hit and destroyed.

Then there was Judge Briggs (played by Richard T. Jones), who says something I have heard so many times from my friends, family and peers it practically feels like my first name: “I hope going forward you find a way to respect your body and yourself.”

Yeah, thanks. I wish the same for you. I also hope you going forward you find a way to be less of a passive-aggressive sanctimonious concern troll — but you know, we can’t all have everything we want, can we?

After viewing the episode, I didn’t get much that sleep that night.

Memories of last semester came rushing back to me.

My public outing and the subsequent media storm that put every private, painful detail of my life on display seemed to play over and over in my mind. The most excruciating line from the episode was from Evie, who said, “They think just because I do porn they can do whatever they want to me.”

There is this sense of ownership of porn stars from strangers, which is, quite frankly, chilling.

I’ve found this to be exceedingly true in these past months, as strangers behind their computer screens have threatened me with rape, murder, and public humiliation. And then there are the students who have done pornography who have not lived to survive the harassment that follows, like the beautiful young woman Alyssa Funke, which is nothing short of a Shakespearean tragedy. This is a narrative that “SVU” confronts compassionately in the episode.

The episode hit close to home to say the least.

“SVU” has showed us time and time again that we should never take a character at face value, and there is so much more to a person than a tabloid headline (which in the case of this episode is: “From Straight As to XXX”) will ever reveal.

I am happy that “my” character was not portrayed as a caricature of the porn industry, but as an imperfect young woman who made some controversial choices that did not define her. Watching the episode was an emotional, at times nausea-inducing experience, and one line in particular I will never forget, as Evie tells the detectives why she will not stop doing porn. Because, she says: “At least here when I say ‘no,’ they stop.”

I asked the executive producer about what he thought about this haunting moment in particular. Leight said, “The sadness comes from Evie’s desperation, her absence of alternate options outside of porn, the confiscation of her choice. It wasn’t porn that brought her to a place of isolation and depression, but rather her sexual assault, her support system, and of course the academic system — the very one she was attempting to pay for.”

In other words, the sex industry wasn’t the problem. Society was.

Belle Knox is an adult film star and student at Duke University.

A Belgian Chocolate Company Called ISIS Has Decided to Change Its Name

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:25 AM PDT

Customers have gone from sweet to sour on a Belgian chocolatier because it has the same name as an Islamist militant group.

The Belgian chocolate maker’s name ISIS is supposed to stand for Italy and Switzerland, where the founder learned how to make chocolate, Reuters reports. Its website—URL “www.isischocolates.be”—says, “Ever since 1923, we at ISIS have been making premium Belgian chocolate with the utmost dedication” and talks about how the company’s chocolates create “unforgettable moments.”

But customers have been calling to say they don’t want to buy the chocolates anymore because the brand, which dates back to 1923, now makes them think of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the chocolatier’s marketing manager Desiree Libeert told Reuters. “We chose ISIS as that was the brand name of our pralines and tablets,” Libeert said. “Had we known there was a terrorist organization with the same name, we would have never chosen that.”

The company will now be known as “Libeert,” the owners’ family name. Hopefully that will make the outrage melt away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your Supplements Might Contain Recalled Ingredients

Your Supplements Might Contain Recalled Ingredients


Your Supplements Might Contain Recalled Ingredients

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 10:47 AM PDT

Dietary supplements with recalled ingredients often remain on the shelves despite a health warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Looking at 27 supplements recalled between 2009 and 2012, researchers found that two thirds of those supplements what were still being sold contained the substance banned by the FDA. The other supplements either remained on the shelf with the recalled ingredient removed or were pulled completely.

The study also found that some types of supplements were more likely to contain recalled ingredients than others. Sports supplements stayed on the shelf despite containing recalled ingredients 85% of the time, higher than any other type of supplement. Only 20% of sexual enhancement supplements that had faced a recall continued to be sold with the recalled element still included, the study found.

Supplement manufacturers make varying levels of effort to ensure that their recalled product is taken off the shelves, says Pieter Cohen, a Harvard researcher who helped conduct the study.

“These companies…were so unabashedly willing to continue to sell exactly the same product that they had recalled with banned drugs in them,” he says. “It shows that the FDA is not … double checking.”

Ebola Survivor Speaks Out: ‘Blessed to Be Alive’

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Ebola survivor and NBC freelancer Ashoka Mukpo says “today is a joyful day,” in a statement he released Wednesday about his recovery.

Mukpo, who was infected with Ebola while working in Liberia, was evacuated to Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. “I owe this staff a debt I can’t ever repay,” said Mukpo in a statement.

The fact that Mukpo was able to be treated in America is a circumstance that weighs on him, he writes: “I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care.” He thanked everyone from the United States State Department, to Doctors Without Borders to NBC.

He paid a special thanks to fellow survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, who donated blood to Mukpo. “May his health flourish and his compassion be known to all,” said Mukpo.

Mukpo was declared free of Ebola and released from the hospital on Oct. 21. It’s unclear how exactly he was infected with the disease. Mukpo says he plans to discuss his experience in writing, and will talk to media, but for now he is spending time with his family and asks for privacy.

You can read his full statement here.

30-Second Tech Trick: Share Your Location From an iPhone Text Message

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 10:30 AM PDT

Here’s the Trailer for That Drumline Sequel You’ve Been Waiting For Since 2002

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 10:28 AM PDT

Twelve long years later, they’re making a sequel to Drumline, and it’s called —what else? — Drumline: A New Beat. After two teasers, we finally have an official full-length trailer.

In the sequel, a Brooklyn girl named Danielle disobeys her parents in order to attend Atlanta A&T and pursue her dream of becoming the first female section leader of the once-great drumline. There will be romance. There will be rivalries. There will be Nick Cannon returning in some sort of mentor capacity. (Sadly, Zoe Saldana was presumably too busy to do the same.)

 

 

This Graph Shows Women Are More Likely To Be Stalked Online

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 10:23 AM PDT

Four out of 10 adults have experienced some form of online harassment, but some of the most alarming variants — stalking and sexual harassment — disproportionately affect upon young women, according to a Pew survey released Wednesday.

The survey breaks down online harassment into six categories, from name calling and humiliation to physical and sexual threats. The milder attacks crossed gender lines and occurred so pervasively that many respondents said they chose to ignore their attacker rather than engage or withdraw from the forum.

But beneath the white noise of insults, experiences varied dramatically depending on the respondents’ age and gender. Roughly one-quarter of women aged 18 to 24 said they have been stalked or sexually harassed online, making them visible stand-outs from an otherwise level field of insults.

PI_2014.10.22__online-harassment-02 2

The Pew survey also exposes deeper divides that can exact a greater emotional toll on Internet users. “Those who exclusively experience less severe forms of harassment report fewer emotional or personal impacts,” the study authors write, “while those with more severe harassment experiences often report more serious emotional tolls.” It lends empirical weight to the argument that there’s no comparing male and female harassment online.

 

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 22

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 10:03 AM PDT

Apple’s Big Week Continues As Stock Price Hits a New High

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 09:59 AM PDT

Shares of Apple passed their all-time high point during morning trading Wednesday, putting an exclamation point on an already strong week for the tech giant.

Apple gained steadily to start the day and eventually touched a high-water mark of $104.11 per share, wiping out the company’s previous all-time high of $103.74 from early September. (In June, the company announced a 7 to 1 stock split.) While Apple’s shares have come back down a bit more recently, they are still up about 1% on the day and they have gained almost 6% in value so far this week. The company’s market cap is around $607 billion.

The uptick in share price follows in the wake of Apple reporting strong earnings on Monday that included a 12% third-quarter sales bump and record profits thanks to better-than-expected iPhone sales. The company also launched its new mobile payments system, Apple Pay, on Monday and the much-hyped Apple Watch is set to hit customers’ wrists early next year.

Investors will surely be keeping their eyes on Apple’s stock throughout the day today. The company’s record closing high is $103.30.

Of course, even the all-time high price for Apple stock likely won’t be high enough for Carl Icahn. The activist investor sent an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this month asserting his belief that Apple’s shares should be worth more than $200 each and that the company should dramatically increase its share buyback program. Icahn owns almost a 1% stake in Apple.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

Apple’s New iPads Are Great, But Not Essential

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 09:48 AM PDT

Apple’s latest iPads, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, are being released to relatively muted fanfare compared to the excitement that surrounded the launch of the company’s latest iPhones. It makes sense—while the latest iPhones sported larger screens, much-improved cameras and the ability to be used as mobile wallets in stores, the improvements to the iPad line are subtle by comparison.

The new iPads are great, reviewers say, but they may not warrant running out for an immediate upgrade. Here’s a rundown:

Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel praises the iPad Air 2’s unprecedented thinness (6.1 millimeters), improved A8X processor, TouchID fingerprint scanner and battery life. However, at $499 for the cheapest model with 16 GB of storage, he says the product doesn’t differentiate itself enough from the slightly smaller iPhone 6 Plus or a full-fledged Macbook:

iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite are designed to make the transition from iPhone to Mac easier than ever with features like Handoff and Continuity; there’s hardly any reason to take a pitstop at the iPad along the way . . . For better or worse, Apple’s allowed the iPad to become the giant iPhone its critics have always insisted that it is, and in a world with giant iPhones that’s a tough spot to be in.

The iPad Air 2 is “pretty close to perfection,” according to CNET, but it also “doesn’t do anything startling or new.” As Scott Stein explains:

The iPad Air 2 is undoubtedly better than any other current iPad, but its advantages might matter less than last year’s dramatically-redesigned iPad Air: screen quality, size, and battery life are close enough, effectively, to feel the same. Processor power and camera quality — and Touch ID — are welcome additions, but not needle-movers for the typical iPad user. Year-old iPads have never seemed like better bets.

The original iPad Air is now retailing for $399 for its cheapest model. Critics say that may be a better choice for iPad newcomers or those with even older tablets looking for an upgrade.

Apple’s new pint-sized tablet, the iPad Mini 3, probably isn’t worth its price, according to the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. It doesn’t sport the super-fast processor in the iPad Air 2 and it has the same weight and dimensions as its predecessor, the iPad Mini 2. The newly-added Touch ID is the main differentiating factor, along with a new gold model, but Manjoo says that’s not enough. “Unless you’re going to be doing a lot of Apple Pay shopping or you’re gaga for gold, it’s best to save the $100 and go with the Mini 2,” he writes.

The final verdict: Apple’s latest products are well-designed and probably the most advanced in their respective markets, but they still don’t quite warrant their high price tags, especially if you’re looking for more storage than the basic models provide.

 

Yes, Jennifer Lopez Should Do a Las Vegas Residency

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 09:40 AM PDT

Jenny from the Block may soon be Jenny on the Strip. TMZ reports that the flygirl-cum-actress-cum-diva was spotted over the weekend with her manager at Britney Spears’ Piece of Me show and Shania Twain’s Still the One performance — possibly doing research for her own iteration of the Vegas residency.

Though there’s no word yet from J.Lo herself, a stint in Sin City wouldn’t be an altogether surprising move at this stage in her career. Where a Las Vegas residency once spelled doom for fading musicians’ careers, today it’s a normal — not to mention enormously lucrative — gig in the rotation for megastars like Madonna, Elton John, and the ever-in-love Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. And while performers certainly skew middle-aged and older, Vegas dealmakers appear to be consciously appealing to younger crowds, opening up residencies to DJs like Deadmau5 and Tiesto. (Though Lopez is middle-aged herself at 45, her fan base tends to skew younger than that of the Dions and the Meatloafs and the Chers.)

A sojourn in Las Vegas spells a few things for an artist like J.Lo: stability, breathing room, and major cash. Residencies are essentially like a tour, minus the grueling travel schedule. They often consist of a handful of shows each week for four or five months, which would leave time for the other projects in Lopez’s multi-hyphenate career: judging American Idol, managing her lifestyle brand, and overseeing the foundation she started with her sister Lydia to improve health care access in under-served communities.

It would also allow Lopez some time to regroup from her 2014 album A.K.A., which disappointed with the lowest sales of her eight studio albums, selling just 60,000 copies in the U.S. She could — and likely would — return to some of the more crowd-pleasing hits from her earlier career as she mulls over where to go next.

And if none of these reasons is enough, then the six-figure nightly intake stands a solid chance at sealing the deal. Even after a tumultuous decade for Britney Spears and a rough run with her most recent album, Britney Jean, the onetime chart-topper is now raking in more than $300,000 per show, on track to gross more than $30 million over two years. Her love may not cost a thing, but J. Lo’s turn on the Vegas stage most certainly would.

Dog Belonging to Nurse With Ebola Tests Negative for the Virus

Posted: 22 Oct 2014 09:40 AM PDT

Bentley, a dog belonging to Dallas nurse and Ebola patient Nina Pham, has tested negative for the virus, the City of Dallas said Wednesday.

The dog was tested amid fears that he might have contracted Ebola from his owner, who was infected at the Dallas hospital where she cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the only person to die of Ebola in the United States. Duncan died Oct. 8 at Dallas’ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Bentley’s samples were sent to a lab on Monday and the results show that he tested negative for the virus. The dog is being isolated and more specimens will be conducted again at the end of a 21-quarantine period.

Pham is in the care of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

[Jason Whitely]