March 11 – 17, 2013

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This week’s headline story: Mozilla Stirs Up Trouble for Ecommerce Tracking

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Proposed changes to Mozilla’s Firefox browser would block third-party cookies unless the user manually opts to allow them. You probably are aware that cookies are small files that browsers store on your computer so that websites can identify you when you visit. For example, Amazon.com greets customers with a page that features special deals that are assembled based on the visitor’s past history with the site. Any site like Amazon, that greets you by name is able to recognize you because of the identifying cookies placed on your computer during previous visits. Most people don’t object to this type of use; however, “third-party” cookies are much more controversial. Third-party cookies are place on your computer by the ad agencies that provide ads to the pages you visit. For example, when you read a New York Times article online, both the New York Times and its ad agency, DoubleClick, place cookies on your computer. Once DoubleClick has placed a third-party cookie on your computer, it can access that cookie from other websites that you visit that utilize its ad services. Similarly MIT’s Technology Review news website uses Google’s advertising service to place ads on its pages. Viewing an article on MIT’s site allows Google to place a cookie on your computer as a third party. Google may also have information about users from their search history, email, and other interactions with Google products. Privacy groups fear that third-party cookies reveal too much private information about users, allowing ad agencies to track user’s movements around the Web. Mozilla is hoping that it can gain some browser market share by blocking third party cookies and allowing users a more private browsing experience. Those in the ecommerce industry warn that blocking third-party cookies will cause hardship for online businesses that depend on advertisements for income. Others warn that blocking third-party cookies will create an online arms race with advertisers developing more sophisticated tools for obtaining user information, forcing users to take escalating steps to protect their privacy, making the Web so complex that users can no longer easily access information.

 

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • The number of new undergraduate computer science majors at Ph.D.-granting U.S. universities rose by more than 29% last year, an increase that the Computing Research Association called “astonishing.” The increase in CS majors is credited to student awareness of tech jobs in the market. While enrollment is up, women accounted for only 12.9% of the students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer science last year. And while in-state residents make up the majority of undergrad CS majors, non-resident overseas students make up the majority of graduate students in CS.
    Computer science enrollments soared last year, rising 30% [Computerworld]
    Foreign students now a majority in computer science grad schools [Computerworld]
  • There’s a new trend in ecommerce – brick and mortar stores! Stores that started out as online-only, are creating brick-and-mortar shops to allow customers to experience their products in person. One example is Bonobos.com (“bu-NO-bos”) – a popular mens apparel store. Bonobos recently opened a chain of Bonobos “Guide-shops” designed specifically for customers who want to try on clothes before making a purchase. Customers request fitting appointments online, visit the store to be properly measured, and then place their order at Bonobos.com and wait for delivery. Bonobos isn’t alone, eyewear dealer Warby Parker and Gap’s Piperlime Internet label have been opening physical locations for folks to try on goods. Also, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is considering opening stores where customers could try out the Kindle line.
    Bonobos Opens Stores That Don’t Sell Anything [NewsFactor]
  • Legislation has been introduced in the California Senate that could reshape higher education in the State. The legislation requires the state’s public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus. So, for example, if a student is unable to get into Intro to Statistics at Cal State because the class is full, he or she might be able to take the course free online from Coursera or some other MOOC instead. “We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” said Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the Senate.
    California Bill Seeks Campus Credit for Online Study [NYTimes]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • FinSpy is spyware sold by the Gamma Group, a British company that says it sells monitoring software to governments solely for criminal investigations. Two security researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that the software is being used by 25 governments around the world, many with questionable records on human rights. It is likely these governments are using the software to spy on their own citizens for politically motivated surveillance. The sale of surveillance technology is still largely unregulated, but this research has prompted greater scrutiny, and a consideration of new regulations.
    Researchers Find 25 Countries Using Surveillance Software [NYTimes]
  • Daiyuu Nobori is a 28 year-old doctoral student at Tsukuba University, about 30 miles northeast of Tokyo. Nobori’s thesis project is named VPN Gate and involves a P2P approach to setting up virtual private networks or VPN’s to help others bypass firewalls to access the Internet. Nobori created VPN Gate to help individuals in countries that restrict Internet use to beat government firewalls. The service encourages members of the public to set up VPN (virtual private network) servers and offer free connections to individual users, aiming to make the technology more accessible. In its first five days of use, VPN gate drew 77,000 users and served nearly 4 terabytes of data.
    Users flock to Japan student’s firewall-busting thesis project [Network World]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S IV handset last week – the successor to the S III which was last year’s most popular Android smart phone. The S IV sports a larger 5″ display in a handset that is narrower, thinner, taller and lighter than the S III, and boasts a 25% longer battery life. Other nifty features include the ability to act as an infrared remote control for TVs, the ability to shoot photos with the front and back cameras at the same time, videos can be set to pause whenever you look away from the display, and navigating through apps can be accomplished with swiping motions above the display. There’s also a built-in pedometer, a humidity/temperature sensor and an included health app.
    Samsung’s Galaxy S IV: The Buzz Is Positive, But Will It Last? [NewsFactor]

and finally….

  • Several software apps designed for Google Glass were demonstrated at SXSW last week. One from the NYTimes displays recent headlines and allows the user to issue a voice command to have an article read. The Google Glass, wearable computer is due out later this year.
    Google Shows Several Third-Party Apps for Glass [NewsFactor]

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