Category Archives: General

Should you delete your Facebook account? Yes, if you can #Facebook

This past week many of us learned a lot about Facebook’s data collection, sharing and business practices.

After much review I concluded that Facebook is unsafe for all of us to be using. If possible, we should delete our Facebook accounts. If we cannot delete our account, then we should take steps to protect our data.

This first post is an overview of Facebook’s data collection. Follow up posts will discuss how to minimize this data collection and sharing, particularly for those of us who may not be able to delete our Facebook account.

How bad is Facebook’s Data Collection?

Facebook’s data collection practices are highly invasive, collecting vastly more data than any of us realized.

  • Facebook collects everything you have posted online. We expected this, of course.
  • The actual “secret sauce” of Facebook, however, is “Likes”. Each time you click “Like” on a friend’s post or page, Facebook uses that to interpret aspects of your interests and behavior. “Like” buttons are a psychological mind trick that tricks us into unwittingly giving information about ourselves to Facebook. Their goal is literally to get inside our minds. Twitter, Instagram and Youtube also data mine “Likes” as part of their spying on us.
  • Facebook tracks you across web sites, logging what web sites – even what pages – you have visited. Facebook does this using Facebook web site logins, “Likes”, and “Share” buttons on other web sites. Recommendation: Do not use the Facebook option to log in to non-Facebook web sites.
  • Using hidden pixel bit images and online advertising networks, Facebook logs your visits to web sites where you had no relationship with Facebook.
  • Facebook tracks purchases you make at retail stores, completely off line and having nothing to do with Facebook. Facebook does this by purchasing data from retail store data aggregators – using your email address, phone number or credit card number as a database identifier. Facebook combines this purchased data with data that Facebook’s own spying operation has collected. Many retail stores encourage you to obtain their “free” loyalty card that supposedly gives you occasional discounts. By giving them your phone number or email address, these cards are used to track your store purchases. Retailers sell this data to third party companies that maintain databases about your store purchases.
  • Facebook’s Android app was – for many years – recording information about every phone call and text message you sent and received – and stored all of this in Facebook’s archives. Facebook has not said what this data is used for. At a minimum, it could be used to make “friend” suggestions on Facebook. Worse, by analyzing the to/from phone numbers used, Facebook could detect that you are making visits to doctors or mental health professionals and make guesses as to your physical and mental health. That information could be sold to insurance companies or recruiters who may seek to avoid someone with health issues.
  • Facebook apps (presumably including Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) also track your Location. Every where you have traveled has been logged by Facebook. The Instagram app also requests permission to access your phone, SMS and contact list. Instagram has no bona fide need for this information.
  • 41% of the top 2,500 Android apps in the Google Play store include embedded Facebook tracking features. Trying to avoid Facebook tracking is difficult.
  • Not only does Facebook track what posts you have made, Facebook logs posts you started to type but then abandoned.
  • Facebook uses software to analyze all of this data to create a model of you and your behavior. Literally, a computer simulation of you. Facebook’s goal is to identify how you can be persuaded to buy something or to advocate for someone else (such as a politician). By identifying your “hot buttons”, Facebook knows how to influence your behavior (and has done tests and written research papers about how they manipulate people). Propagandists and advertisers know that people who are in an emotional state (happy or sad) or more receptive to their messaging. By identifying your “weak spots”, propagandists and advertisers are more likely to influence you. Facebook makes money by selling this data (or sometimes even giving this data away intentionally or accidentally).
  • Facebook’s spying has been associated with manipulating elections in many countries around the world.
  • The effect is that Facebook is a platform for surveillance and propaganda messaging. So is Google, by the way.

Facebook’s business is spying on every aspect of your life, and then sharing the “model” of conclusions that Facebook has drawn about each of us, with third parties.

Third parties use that “model” to create highly optimized advertising – and propaganda – to deliver to each of us, individually, to persuade us to buy something or to adopt someone else’s agenda.

In some cases, the data collected by Facebook is even used against our best interests. Facebook allows advertisers to target ads by racial preference, sex and age. Real estate advertisers have targeted specific racial groups (e.g. whites) as a way to avoid getting applicants from the non-targeted group. Employers, including high tech employers like Facebook, have targeted tech job ads by age – such as age 24-35, thereby avoiding having older applicants be aware of job openings and hence, no applicants from older workers. Unaware of these job openings, older workers do not even apply. In this way, they discriminate against older workers. Finally, nursing jobs are typically targeted at women only – a field where in the U.S. 89% of all registered nurses are women.

These ads are not just those that appear on Facebook – Facebook’s ad networks displays 44% of all advertising on the web (as of 2017). This means Facebook’s ad network is used to secretly discriminate against tens of millions of people every day.

We have zero control over the data that Facebook has collected on us. Even if we delete individual items, they retain the deleted items in the Facebook archive. Worse, deleting items on Facebook is very difficult. For example, go to your Activity time line and delete 100 posts – you have to select each post, one by one, click 3-4 mouse clicks to delete each individual post. This is ponderous considering that most users have been using Facebook for years. Lacking a bulk delete/edit or bulk change privacy of past posts feature, Facebook becomes a “write only” memory system from which data can generally not be removed. This is by design – Facebook intentionally makes it very hard to remove old items we have posted or shared.

Further, data is placed in different silos. “Photos” contains albums – you can delete entire albums, fortunately. But the photos posted on your time line can only be deleted by going to the Activity time line and deleting them one by one. Then there is a section called “Events”. Any time you clicked on Interested or Going, Facebook logged that. Stuff is hidden all over the place so that Facebook can claim they allow you to delete things while simultaneously making it as difficult as possible to find where you can delete it.

I concluded Facebook is generally unsafe for everyone. Realistically, deleting your account may not be something you can do – at least not right now. However, there are steps you can and should take to protect your personal information. I will discuss those steps in another post soon.

Personally, I have removed myself from about 90% of the Groups I belonged to on Facebook, unliked all of the Pages I had liked, deleted all of my photo albums, and have turned off nearly all Notifications. I will also be deleting 2 or 3 of the 4 pages that I run on Facebook and unfriending those friends that I have had little or no interaction with. I will no longer post anything to my personal page nor will I ever again click “Like”.

I plan to keep this App Inventor programming page on Facebook as perhaps my only activity on Facebook. However, if that should change, I will let you know and provide you with an alternate – at a minimum, you can always visit our web site directly at https://learn2c.org.

On App Inventor topics, I have been working on something – its not ready yet – but some stuff on Fusion Tables and also perhaps how to resurrect the old TinyWebDB type simple cloud-based database. We will see how this turns out!

Update on Meltdown-Spectre security vulnerabilities

Anti-virus software makers are detecting malware that attempts to exploit the security vulnerabilities identified as Spectre and Meltdown. Since code must execute on the computer to exploit these vulnerabilities, anti-virus software is being updated to detect such malware attacks. Of course, some such malware may yet get through our defenses and could end up on machines.

Source: Meltdown-Spectre: Malware is already being tested by attackers | ZDNet

My view is that for most of us, its just another form of malware. We all need to be pro-active about avoiding malware by taking appropriate steps such as installing code we know to be good, using anti-virus software, and keeping our systems generally update. Meltdown and Spectre are just two more exploits that hackers can use.

Is your computer now protected from Spectre and Meltdown security vulnerabilities? 

Steve Gibson of Gibson Research Corporation has provided a downloadable program that says whether or not your Windows PC has been updated with fixes for Spectre and Meltdown. The program also offers, if possible, options to disable the security protections (such as you find the updates cause your computer to run slower).

Go here to read about and download the utility program: GRC | InSpectre  

High level overview of compiling a program into executable instructions

A high level look at the concepts of compilers, interpreters, byte codes and Just-in-Time compilation, as ways of converting our programs into executable programs or machine instructions processed by the CPU.

The first video provided a high level look at computer system architecture.

The second video introduced the concepts of the CPU or processor.

This video introduces the conversion of our high level programs into machine executable code. Note that this video does not cover specifically how App Inventor blocks code is converted into an executable program.

The fourth video, relying on the information covered in the first 3 videos, will explain the ideas behind the SPECTRE exploit.

 

Intel updates performance impact of SPECTRE and MELTDOWN fixes

Intel is continuing to measure and evaluate the performance impact of their own firmware changes to address the SPECTRE and MELTDOWN exploits. Click on the chart to view the results in full size.

The chart shows Intel’s measurements for certain 6th, 7th and 8th generation Intel processors. The measurements are made using standard “benchmarket” tests that simulate specific usage scenarios. Consequently, these are measurements of performance impacts to these benchmark tests, which may not represent how we use our own computers.

Source: Intel Security Issue Update: Initial Performance Data Results for Client Systems

Separately, Google says they managed to upgrade their cloud servers with their own fixes that had negligible impacts.

While AMD processors appear to not be impacted by the MELTDOWN exploit, AMD did announce that one of the variants of SPECTRE does impact the AMD processors.

This suggests that over the weeks and months to come, future updates may appear that fix new variations of the exploits but also improve performance as better solutions are identified.

New drone quadcopter programmable using Scratch #AppInventor #STEM #Drones #CES2018

The ability to code is an important part of literacy and will enable kids to learn about creative problem solving and how to communicate their ideas. Engineers at Ryze have made Tello programmable with Scratch, an MIT-developed coding system that allows kids and teens to learn the basics of programming. Kids can program their Tello to string multiple flips into a single command or create their own flight patterns using MIT Media Lab’s easy-to-use block-based coding interface called Scratch.

Source: Ryze and DJI team to create Tello $99 drone – sUAS News – The Business of Drones

The Scratch programming system came before App Inventor and inspired the “blocks” programming model used in App Inventor.

The “Intel CPU” Exploit – does it affect App Inventor apps? #SPECTRE #MELTDOWN

Yes, but Android has already been updated to deal with it.

What is the “Intel CPU” Exploit? Well, its not just Intel, as first described. The SPECTRE exploit works on processors from many vendors. The MELTDOWN exploit might mostly impact Intel processor (but could affect some others).

What are these exploits and what do they do?

This first video is a high level overview. I hope to add another video going into more details – which means explaining a bit about what goes on inside your computer or smart phone processor and computing system.

There is a typo in a title in the slide set – about half way through the video the title says “What do this exploits actually do?” and of course, that should say, “”What do these exploits actually do?”

Ignore the type “doe” in the FB link below – that’s been fixed on the web site! But the typo in this tittle, in the middle of the video should say “What do THESE exploits actually do?

App Inventor to run on iPhones? Yes. How about Windows and Mac OS X? #AppInventor #Stem

MIT has announced that App Inventor will run on iPhones and iPads, hopefully by spring of 2018. You can help make that happen by making a donation to their effort – go to http://appinventor.mit.edu and follow the links to make a donation!

Did you know that you can run App Inventor Android apps on Windows and Mac OS X? Sure can!

All you need is to install an Android simulator for Windows or Mac and then install your App Inventor .apk app into the simulator. This way you can run your apps on Windows or Mac!

This short video shows you how to do that – take a look!

 

There are several Android simulators for both Windows and Mac OS X.

This video demonstrates using BlueStacks for Windows (also available for Mac OS X) and Nox App Player for Mac OS X.

New web address Learn2c.org

To make accessing this web page easier, I created a new web address for my App Inventor “how to” web site:

The name is short for “Learn to Code”. A short URL makes it easy to visit the web site!

I duplicated the old web site at the new address and everything looks the same. The new web site is “live” now although I will still be posting here for a bit.

I will keep you updated on the switch over, perhaps later in the week. But go ahead – check out the new web site – it is up and running now!

By creating a new web site, the two older web sites will remain online. All links from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and personal pages will still work and point back to the original articles from when they were first posted.

Interesting questions :)

I am back after having been traveling for over 2 weeks (and some travel before that too); during most of that time, I had no Internet or cell phone access.

While I was away, readers sent me questions about how to do various things in App Inventor and I will start working on creating tutorials to answer their questions. I think others will find their questions and possible solutions to solve the problems of interest!

Another reader indicates their’s been a change to the Google Fusion tables API and I will try to look into that and see what’s up.