Tag: Social Networking

“A Miami student was sentenced yesterday for cyberstalking on Facebook and Instagram.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.

Kassandra Cruz, 23, of Miami, Florida, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Frederico A. Moreno to 22 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, a $100 special assessment, and $2,178.32 in restitution, stemming from her conviction on one count of cyberstalking, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2261(A)(2)(B).

According to court documents, beginning in June 2015, victim “S.B.” received a “friend” request from Cruz on her Instagram and Facebook accounts. In an effort to gain “S.B.’s” friendship, Cruz created a false persona on her Instagram account wherein she portrayed herself as a male who was an active duty U.S. Marine. Under that ruse, “S.B.” accepted the friend request.

From late June 2015 until September 2015, Cruz, posing as Giovanni, “liked” and commented on pictures “S.B.” posted on both her Instagram and Facebook accounts. However, when “S.B.” noticed that Cruz had begun “following” and “liking” all of her friends pages and posts, she became suspicious and “blocked” and “unfollowed” Cruz from her social media accounts.

As a result, Cruz threatened that “S.B.” would face repercussions at her job and with her family if she did not comply, and specifically threatened to expose “S.B.’s” past via social media. The threats to “S.B.” persisted from Cruz on social media and later via text messaging, and Cruz ultimately demanded on multiple occasions $100,000 in exchange for no further contact, adding that she “knew where “S.B.’s family lived and they should watch their backs because someone would be heading to…to deal with them.” In total, “S.B.” received over 900 unwanted calls and text messages since the beginning of 2016, and the extortionate and threatening messages continued until late April 2016. Ultimately, Cruz was arrested and taken into custody during a pre-arranged meeting in Miami.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jodi L. Anton and Francis Viamontes.

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He swindled them with charm.

A Virginia man who posted footage of himself allegedly holding up a bank on Instagram claims it wasn’t actually a robbery—because he was polite, didn’t wear a mask and filmed the entire incident.

Dominyk Antonio Alfonseca was arrested just 20 minutes after his alleged heist of a TowneBank branch in Virginia Beach on Monday afternoon, reports The Virginian-Pilot.

The 23-year-old allegedly walked into the financial institution, which he told reporters he chose because it was the “fanciest” one around, and handed over a note.

“I need 150,000 Bands Right NOW!! Please Police take 3 to 4 minites to get here, I would appriceate if you Ring the alarm a minute after I am gone … Make sure the money doesn’t BLOW UP ON MY WAY OUT;-) (sic)” it read.

He left with his loot, before bizarrely posting two clips and a photograph online of what he’d allegedly done.

The videos show the teller reading the note, and then pulling out stacks of cash and placing it into a bag. The picture features the demand letter.

Alfonseca filmed the bank teller forking over the cash.

Alfonseca was detained shortly after and charged with robbery.

But he claimed in an interview with WAVY-TV from city jail on Wednesday that what he did wasn’t actually a crime.

He said the fact that he was polite and used “please” in the note, did not wear a mask and recorded the incident meant he was not guilty.

“I’m basically asking permission for money. In my eyes, I did not commit a robbery, and I feel I’m being charged without reason,” he said.

“I posted the video on my Instagram. I videotaped it. If it was a robbery, I don’t think I would videotape it, post the picture of the letter and do that all to come to jail,” he added.

Alfonseca refused to reveal why he’d gone to the bank and demanded he speak directly with the President. He also gave shoutouts to Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.

“Michelle Obama — high five!” he said during a rambling jailhouse interview with WTKR-TV.

Police have not commented on the Instagram account, which also features amateur rap music videos and other bizarre missives typed up by Alfonseca.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A mobile app from a law enforcement technology firm could soon allow emergency responders from different agencies to communicate seamlessly with each other in a crisis for the first time, sharing files and conducting impromptu conference calls.

BlueLine Grid’s applications target what has long been one of the most vexing challenges facing U.S. law enforcement and emergency responders. Communications breakdowns hampered responses to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack in New York and disasters including 2012′s Superstorm Sandy.

“It tells you who is near you, who can help you and allows you to communicate effectively with them,” said David Riker, chief executive officer of privately held BlueLine Grid.

Because the app relies on wireless connectivity it could fail during a disaster, so it is intended to supplement and not replace traditional emergency communications, Riker said.

The app works on devices running on Google Inc’s Android and Apple Inc’s iOS operating system.

BlueLine Grid is a law enforcement technology firm co-founded by New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in 2013, who since cut ties to the company to avoid conflicts of interest before returning to the NYPD in January.

The app would be the first to connect individual responders working in the field, using common standards shared in Android and iOS to enable communications between police, fire and other agencies in different jurisdictions, Riker said.

BlueLine Grid uses similar technology to Skype which is known as over-the-top (OTT) voice and messaging, meaning the services run on top of the wireless network, to solve the problem of interoperability.

Experts say that developing better communications systems is one of the key challenges in ongoing efforts to improve security preparedness.

“We have so much law enforcement in the U.S. – more than 700,000 agencies – and each of them has their own method of collecting and sharing information,” said Jim Bueermann, president of the non-profit Police Foundation.

“Finding a platform that is web-based works on mobile platforms and is easy to use is, I think, the holy grail of information sharing,” said Bueermann, a former chief of the Redlands, California police department, which is testing an inter-agency data sharing social media app called CopBook.

Earlier this month, John D. Cohen, the former head of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security, joined BlueLine Grid’s corporate board.

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The Glendale Unified School District in Southern California outsources keeping tabs on troublemakers as well as identifying kids in trouble. At least these are its justifications.

Safety has rather become the mantra of authorities over the last few years.

Government exists, so we’re told, to keep the people safe. As opposed to, say, happy, employed, strong, proud or free.

A school district in Southern California is also committed to the safety of its kids. And, given that social media sites are where kids are at these days, it’s decided to keep tabs on every single public post its kids are making.

Naturally, the Glendale Unified School District doesn’t have the time to do this itself. So it’s hired an outside company to do its tab-keeping for it.

As CBS Los Angeles reports, the district chose Geo Listening, a company that specializes in following kids’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube feeds.

“The whole purpose is student safety,” the district’s superintendent Richard Sheehan told CBS.

So now every single piece of social blurting is now being watched by Big Geo.

Sheehan explained that the system works by looking for keywords. He gave examples of how potentially suicidal kids have been the subject of interventions thanks to the system.

Some, though, might feel a touch chilled by his description of the system’s breadth.

“We do monitor on and off campus, but we do pay attention during school hours. We do pay more attention to the school computers,” he said.

In legal terms, any public posting is fair game. The Geo Listening Web site helpfully explains: “The students we can help are already asking for you. All of the individual posts we monitor on social media networks are already made public by the students themselves. Therefore, no privacy is violated.”

Every single public posting made by every one of the district’s 13,000 students is being monitored, although the company insists it doesn’t peek at “privatized pages, SMS, MMS, email, phone calls, voicemails.”

Geo Listening says that its role is to provide “timely” information, so that a school can act, whether it’s a case of bullying, potential self-harm, vandalism, substance abuse or truancy.

However, the company is surely able to build up a huge trove of information about all individuals which, at least theoretically, might prove to be valuable (to someone) in the future.

What lazy, neurotic employer wouldn’t love to know if a potential hire was a school bully a few years ago? Might the employer be able to contact the school district and demand a record of all social media activity that took place in a potential employee’s youth?

When kids grow up, there will be parts of their lives they want to erase. Yet here will be records that keep that past alive.

The twin-pronged fork of surveillance is currently being examined for the potential of its worth.

The problem is that, ultimately, there are no guarantees — be it Google, the NSA or Geo Listening — about what information is actually being collected and how it might be used.

Why do you think that kids (and Wall Street) are so enamored with Snapchat?

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The recent death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who took her own life after apparently enduring months of online bullying, has raised questions about the online safety of children and young people. Ask.fm – the question-and-answer website at the centre of the controversy – has promised new measures to protect users. But what role should schools play? Esafety is already a part of the curriculum in both England and Wales, but are schools taking the issue seriously enough? And do teachers know enough about the social networking platforms their pupils are using?

Amy James, 15, student at Easten high school, Cardiff

Schools don’t do enough to help people who are being bullied, even when it’s happening in real life. I know a lot of people who are bullied online and keep quiet about it. They think that there’s no point in telling teachers because nothing will be done. And lots of people are also scared to use the “report” buttons on Facebook because they worry that it’ll get out that they’ve reported someone. We don’t have proper lessons looking at social media at school but if we did, it might help people who are experiencing bullying. People need to be taught about the effect that cyberbullying can have.

Carol Phillips, student support officer and child protection at Crickhowell high school in Powys, Wales

Schools only have students for five hours a day, so there’s limited time for classes on internet safety. Parents have them for much longer and it’s parents who are buying them the phones and software, often without understanding how it all works.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of a parent or a sibling, with parental knowledge, putting a child on Facebook when they are below the age of 13. Of course you can’t monitor your children all the time, but there are steps you can take, including controls and filters, or looking at the PEGI age rating that appears on games.

Reem Jaafar, 15, mentor for Bullies Out charity

I experienced online bullying – it was part of a wider pattern of bullying that spilled over onto Facebook. I was receiving messages with nasty comments or rumours that weren’t true. We’ve had some lessons about it at school: one this year about Ask.fm, and last year we had talks about Facebook and Twitter where they said that you should tell a teacher if you’re being bullied online. But it’s really difficult to speak out when it’s actually happening to you. It took me a long time – a year – to finally say something. When I did, my teachers were helpful though.

Nadimur Rahman, assistant head and IT teacher at a secondary school in Sutton

We have so many issues with kids putting stuff on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – you name it. Often when we call parents in and explain what has happened, they have no idea what their son or daughter has been doing.

It’s not their fault – parents aren’t to blame, it’s up to the government to make sure the right information is imparted to parents. Social media is taught as part of the IT curriculum – the problem is that the government is moving away from IT and pushing computer science instead, which focuses far more on technical things like programming.

Kim Thomas, mother of 14-year-old Beth, Hertfordshire
It’s hard to monitor what kids are doing online now they all have iPhones and iPads. I’m Facebook friends with my daughter, so I can see what’s she doing on there, but I only found out yesterday that she has an Ask.fm profile. I don’t know what she does on Twitter because she has three or four different accounts.

My daughter has experienced some nastiness on Facebook in the past – not a huge amount, but a continuation of some bullying that was happening at her old school.

She is given classes on social media at school, but the problem is that the kids are ahead of the teachers. The one thing schools could do is make sure that young people are aware that if they do bully others online, there will be repercussions.

Paul Luxmoore, Dane Court grammar school, Broadstairs, Kent
The new forms of media are fantastic and can be of huge benefit to young people. But it is quite shocking to see how they can be abused – and that’s something all schools need to take seriously. The type of bullying that takes place on new media can be different. Girls, for example, might be persuaded by a boy to take photos of themselves naked. This then gets shared around a friendship group, which is hugely upsetting for the victim. We have a policy of excluding – though not permanently – students who do this type of thing.

Schools need to have very strict rules, and they need to make it clear to pupils that there will be repercussions. You could take the view that if it’s happening outside school then it’s not a matter for teachers, but I believe that if it affects children’s behaviour and attainment in school, it needs to be dealt with.

Liz Watson, head of Beat Bullying
Esafety has been a part of recent curriculum changes, which means schools are already doing more. But as well as educating students about how to use social media, they also need to deal effectively with cyberbullying when it does occur. While many schools do have anti-bullying policies, these tend to focus on face-to-face abuse. Schools need to update these and work with governors, parents and students to raise awareness.

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What’s the most persistent digital divide in America? It isn’t by race, income or educational attainment, studies show, but by age.

Just 56 percent of Americans over 65 are online, according to a May study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, compared with 83 percent of people aged 50 to 64, 92 percent of people 30 to 49 and 98 percent of 18-to-29 year olds. The 2013 study represented the first time the percentage of America’s online elderly tipped over the 50 percent mark.

The racial divide, by comparison, only runs from 76 percent of Hispanic Americans who are online to 85 percent of blacks and 86 percent of non-Hispanic whites, Pew found.

The divide measured by income is somewhat greater, from 76 percent of households that make less than $30,000 per year to 96 percent of households that make more than $75,000. The education divide comes closest to the age divide. About 59 percent of Americans who didn’t complete high school are online, Pew found, compared with 96 percent of college graduates.

The effects of this divide can be pernicious, said Tony Sarmiento, executive director of Senior Service America, a Washington-area nonprofit that works to increase Internet use among the elderly. Disconnected seniors are more likely to feel isolated and sink into depression, Sarmiento said, especially if they’re housebound by physical ailments or have lost much of their nondigital social circle to death, disease or dementia.

A 2009 report by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies found a 20 percent reduction in depression among seniors who are online compared with those who are not.

“We all end up paying for that in terms of older people needing more care because their health deteriorates,” Sarmiento said. “So being able to lessen that isolation online, not just with email but with Skype and things like that could have a tremendous impact.”

Retirees who need to return to the workforce because of reductions to their pensions are also finding it more difficult because job postings are increasingly only online, Sarmiento said. That’s not to mention the struggle of actually competing in the increasingly digital workforce.

This digital divide is even more exaggerated when it comes to mobile.

Only 18 percent of American seniors use smartphones, according to a Pew study released in June, compared with 55 percent of Americans aged 45 to 54, 69 percent of Americans 35 to 44 and about 80 percent of Americans 18 to 34.

A Pew study released Monday showed 43 percent of America’s online seniors use social media now. That’s more than triple the 13 percent who used those sites in 2009 but roughly half the 72 percent of total Americans who use social networking.

Nextgov spoke with Sarmiento Tuesday about why the digital divide persists among seniors, what it means and what government can and should be doing about it. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.

What lessons do you take from studies showing more older Americans are using the Internet, smartphones and Web services such as social networking?

Well, the good news is that last year you had a majority of older Americans online, but that’s a slim majority. That means there are 24 million who are not online and it doesn’t look as if there’s much effort to do anything about that. There are a number of interrelated reasons why the digital divide among those older people persists but in the end I think the current publicly funded efforts and market forces aren’t making much of a dent.

What did you think about the Pew findings released Monday showing a tripling of seniors using social media?

The thing I took away from the latest findings is that once an older person goes online what they use the Internet for is becoming more and more similar to other users. Also, as the kinds of services available on the Internet continue to change, it’s becoming clear that the digital divide isn’t a fixed idea. We used to think the wrong side of the divide meant not having dial up at home. Now the threshold that separates the right and wrong sides of the divide may not be just having broadband at home. Maybe you do need mobile access. Maybe you need to be able to do social media.

What keeps elderly people from getting online?

One of the big hurdles is there are a lot of people who say ‘I’ve lived 65 or 70 or 90 years and I never needed this before so why do I need it now?’ One early report Pew did that stuck with me is they looked at people with less income and less education and then they compared older and younger people with those characteristics. The big change they found in terms of being on the wrong side of the digital divide is that no one had to convince young people they were missing out on something. Their peers were online and they got the sense there was all sorts of stuff they were missing.

Older people too often believe ‘there’s nothing in it for me. Why should I deal with the hassle of a new bill or a new technology or another damn remote,’ let alone the trouble of learning all this stuff. When you don’t know what you’re missing you’re much tougher to reach as a potential market. What we’ve learned when we’ve reached out to older adults is you’re not going to break through this irrelevancy barrier by some kind of mass media campaign. It has to be with a personal touch where one older person helps another older person discover ‘hey, you can really do something here.’

Are there fewer older seniors online because they are less likely to have used the Internet before retirement?

Yes. And that helps to explain why companies that are trying to make money on this segment of the population, often decide it’s just not worth it. It would just cost way too much to convince older customers they should be online and given their age, you know, they might not be customers for that long. So the return on investment just gets weaker and weaker.

On the other side of the coin, what’s causing the overall increase in seniors online?

Well, the other end of the spectrum is people who are entering the group of so-called younger older people or the older baby boomers. Many of them learned this Internet stuff on the job before they retired so they don’t need to get over the digital divide. But there’s also a class difference. If baby boomers aren’t online, it’s because they weren’t in an occupation where being online was important.

Clearly there’s also been a positive effect from older people, particularly those with more income and education, deciding for themselves that ‘maybe there’s something in this for me, my kids are online, my grandkids are online and so if I want to stay in touch with them I’d better get with the program.’

Finally, there’s also the iPad. For a lot of older people, this is a much more user friendly interface where they can much more quickly get to what really interests them and what’s really useful about being online as opposed to the long slog of learning how to use the mouse and the operating system and all that.

Can the government save money in the long run by getting more seniors online?

I think in theory you can, but it’s like the line from Moonstruck where the plumber says you’ve got to spend money to save money.

So what should the government be doing?

That’s a big policy question. Maybe we should try to expand the Lifeline Program, [a Federal Communications Commission initiative to provide low-cost Internet and mobile phone service to poor Americans].

There’s also Connect to Compete, [a partnership between non-profits and telecoms that offers low-cost broadband to poor Americans]. Those providers mostly use the free or reduced school lunch program to verify eligibility, so that’s clearly having no effect on older households, except for older people raising their grandchildren. We’ve proposed that maybe you could use SNAP [the Agriculture Department’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps] as another way to determine eligibility so households headed by older people with no school-aged kids would be included.

That might address affordability, but if you’re really going to make a dent in the 24 million older adults who aren’t online that’s necessary but not sufficient. You’ve got to deal with the need for instruction designed for older learners. What we’ve found in our experience is if we can mobilize older people to serve as coaches for their peers, that can address the irrelevance problem and a little bit of the skills training.

That’s one reason public libraries are very important, but in too many places funding for public libraries is getting dire. So you come to the conclusion that neither market forces nor the public has the resources to break through that barrier.

Maybe you look at this and say it’s just too overwhelming but I say let’s try.

Apple Enters Net Radio’s Busy Field

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is known for making some of the finest hardware in the world, but one of its biggest stumbling blocks has been services that rely on an Internet connection.

Apple’s Maps app for iPhones was initially so bad the company apologized. Ping, Apple’s social network for discovering songs, was killed because hardly anyone used it. And iCloud, its service for synchronizing user data across devices, has been criticized for being unreliable, though it has not had as many glitches as its predecessor MobileMe, which had an e-mail blackout that disconnected thousands of customers for days.

Now, Apple is giving online services another try, in an area where it has long been the leader: music. On Monday, at the opening of its annual developers conference in San Francisco, the company is expected to unveil an Internet radio service that will stream songs over a data connection instead of storing them on a device, according to people briefed on the negotiations. The service is expected to be free, but supported by ads.

With its Internet radio service, Apple will be following other online music services, like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio. But it could spread this type of music consumption further into the mainstream, some analysts say.

“The genius of iTunes 10 years ago was that they made the mainstream consumer understand what digital music was, and how it all worked,” said Russ Crupnik, an analyst at NPD Group who studies the digital music market. He said Pandora was mainstream, with 200 million registered users, but it was not a dominant global player, and that a similar service from Apple would expose more people to online radio.

The company is also expected to introduce new Mac notebooks and a redesign of iOS, its software operating system for iPhones and iPads, at the four-day developers conference. The conference includes seminars where software developers can get training on the latest Apple software development tools so they can start making apps.

The new operating system will be the first mobile software system made under the company’s lead hardware designer, Jony Ive. Mr. Ive was put in charge of software design after the company fired Scott Forstall, the former head of mobile software development, amid the flurry of negative news reports surrounding Apple’s mapping software.

Before taking over software design, Mr. Ive made it known in the company that he did not like some of the visual ornamentations in Apple’s mobile software, particularly the use of textures representing physical materials. Under his direction, elements like the yellow-notepad inspired Notes app and the leather borders in the Calendar app for the iPad are expected to be removed from the software. The overall look will be smoother and less ostentatious, according to a person briefed on the company’s plans, who asked not to be named.

For Apple, the expansion into streaming music underscores a competitive issue: one of its chief rivals, Google, has long had robust Internet services, like Gmail and Google Apps, while over the years it has gotten better at designing the software and hardware for its phones and tablets.

But while Apple struggles with Internet services, its stock is down about 37 percent after peaking at a little more than $700 in the fall. The company is still selling tens of millions of iPhones and iPads, but investors are concerned about its growth slowing and profit margins getting tighter. A shift into services like Internet radio could present new opportunities to make money.

But James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, says he thinks Apple is too late in this game. The company has to present an Internet radio service that is better than what is out there, he said, or people will continue to just buy its hardware and use other companies’ services.

“It’s going to have to innovate,” Mr. McQuivey said. “It can’t just be Pandora with an ‘i’ in front of it or Spotify with an ‘i’ in front of it.”

In the late 1990s, the music industry was in turmoil because many Internet users quickly learned they could download their favorite songs for free instead of paying for albums. Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s late chief, approached the music labels with the idea of a store offering the ability to download songs a la carte for 99 cents a download.

“When we first approached the labels, the online music business was a disaster,” Mr. Jobs was quoted as saying in the book “The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture and Coolness.” “Nobody had ever sold a song for 99 cents. Nobody really ever sold a song. And we walked in, and we said: ‘We want to sell songs à la carte. We want to sell albums, too, but we want to sell songs individually.’ They thought that would be the death of the album.”

In 2003, Apple was the first company to legitimize digital music when it opened the iTunes Store, a legal way for people to download and purchase digital songs. Now digital music has grown far beyond the traditional album. Many companies offer the ability to stream music over a data connection.

Spotify, for example, based in London, lets people search for songs and immediately stream them over the Internet on their smartphones and computers; a free version of the service plays ads every few songs, but paying $5 a month will skip the ads.

Rdio, another music streaming service, costs at least $5 a month to stream songs from a computer, but it has an emphasis on social networking, or discovering music by looking at what friends are listening to.

And Pandora, launched eight years ago, lets users create their own stations by entering an artist and then automatically playing songs similar to that artist. Its ad-free upgrade is $4 a month.

But online streaming services are not as popular as iTunes, which counts about 500 million customers with their credit cards on file. Apple is still No. 1 in the paid digital music market with a 63 percent share, followed by Amazon at 22 percent, according to NPD Group.

In a study, NPD said it found that 44 million Americans bought at least one song or album download last year, a number that has remained stable despite the growth of Pandora and music streaming services. A separate NPD study found that people who stream music are much more likely to buy music downloads.

When Apple enters online radio, it will be difficult for companies like Spotify and Pandora to compete, said Laurence Isaac Balter, chief market strategist at Oracle Investment Research, which has clients that own Apple shares. He said Apple will be at an advantage because it will have deeper control of the iPhone software and hardware, as well as more data about its own customers, than outside companies would, so that it can make smarter music recommendations for customers. Streaming music will also give customers a chance to listen to music they would otherwise never have heard before, and then perhaps buy the songs in iTunes, Mr. Balter said.

Mr. Balter added that Apple could potentially leverage the user data it gets from streaming radio and expand it into a future Apple television, where people could find video content about their favorite bands or even purchase concert tickets on the bigger screen.

“There’s so much of a white canvas here for Apple to paint on,” Mr. Balter said. “It’s refreshing to see them start to think in this area.”

As Apple expands its product lines to include cheaper products, like the iPad Mini and a rumored cheaper iPhone, its profit margins will decrease. That is when the importance of online services will become even greater for Apple because they will provide more ways to make money, Mr. McQuivey said.

“If Apple doesn’t make this shift to services,” he said, “they won’t be left with a leg to stand on.”

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You think half those adults on Facebook are there because they love Facebook? No, no. These are merely parents engaged in covert operations.

I had always imagined that adults entered the world of Facebook because they wanted to re-enact their teenage years, find a new lover, or “connect” with long-lost relatives whom they never really liked.

Yet a new piece of research has proved mind-altering.

My failure to regularly read the Education Database Online has been mitigated by Mashable and has led me to a new appreciation of the adult world.

For these vital statistics reveal that American parents aren’t trying to imitate children so much as spy on them.

It’s perfectly well-known that children can be trusted about as much as news stories in Pravda during the Brezhnev era.

So parents feel forced to take the radical step of joining them so that they can beat them. In a psychological sense, you understand.

Indeed, this study suggests that half of all parents sign up with Facebook at least partly in order to see what drugs their kids are taking, who they are consorting with and what they really think about, well, their parents.

An excitable 43 percent of parents admit that they check their kids’ Facebook pages every day.

Some 92 percent of them make it so easy for themselves by openly becoming Facebook friends with their kids.

Some might reach the inevitable conclusion that American parents aren’t very bright.

If they are making it so obvious they are snooping on their kids by friending them, might they not imagine that the kids, in turn, will not express themselves fully on Facebook, instead choosing to go to Tumblr, Instagram, or some other relatively recondite place?

Might that be one reason why several recent studies suggested that kids think Facebook is old?

The Education Database Online figures offer that a third of kids would defriend their parents “if they could.”

I, though, am left fascinated as to how much adults are exposing themselves.

Surely the kids — just, you know, for fits and giggles — trawl around their parents’ Facebook pages and speculate as to which of their Facebook friends are former (or even current) lovers.

Surely the kids take a look at these people’s profile pictures and pray that they never, ever end up as wizened and alcohol-sodden as some of them appear.

Given that the kids are far, far more tech savvy than their parents will ever be, might they be far better spies than their parents?

While the adults think they’re being clever in following the kids, I suspect it’s the kids who get more information out of this social-networking exchange — information that they’ll choose to use just when they need it.

Blackmail never goes out of style.

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Facebook unveils social search tools for users

Facebook has announced a major addition to its social network – a smart search engine it has called graph search.

The feature allows users to make “natural” searches of content shared by their friends.

Search terms could include phrases such as “friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter”.

Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg insisted it was not a web search, and therefore not a direct challenge to Google.

However, it was integrating Microsoft’s Bing search engine for situations when graph search itself could not find answers.

Mr Zuckerberg said he “did not expect” people to start flocking to Facebook to do web search.

“That isn’t the intent,” he said. “But in the event you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s really nice to have this.”

Finding folks

Earlier speculation had suggested that the world’s biggest social network was about to make a long-anticipated foray into Google’s search territory.

“We’re not indexing the web,” explained Mr Zuckerberg at an event at Facebook’s headquarters in California.

“We’re indexing our map of the graph – the graph is really big and its constantly changing.”

In Facebook’s terms, the social graph is the name given to the collective pool of information shared between friends that are connected via the site.

It includes things such as photos, status updates, location data as well as the things they have “liked”.

Until now, Facebook’s search had been highly criticised for being limited and ineffective.

The company’s revamped search was demonstrated to be significantly more powerful. In one demo, Facebook developer Tom Stocky showed a search for queries such as “friends of friends who are single in San Francisco”.

The same technology could be used for recruitment, he suggested, using graph search to find people who fit criteria for certain jobs – as well as mutual connections.

Such queries are a key function of LinkedIn, the current dominant network for establishing professional connections.

“We look at Facebook as a big social database,” said Mr Zuckerberg, adding that social search was Facebook’s “third pillar” and stood beside the news feed and timeline as the foundational elements of the social network.

Perhaps mindful of privacy concerns highlighted by recent misfires on policies for its other services such as Instagram, Facebook stressed that it had put limits on the search system.

“On graph search, you can only see content that people have shared with you,” developer Lars Rasmussen, who was previously the co-founder of Google Maps, told reporters.

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How out-of-hand has the “war on terror” become? So much so that now, the Department of Homeland Security has taken to monitoring social media Web sites trolling for would-be terrorists, as if the world’s most dangerous killers were Tweeting their plans.

Only, DHS isn’t just trolling for terrorists by monitoring Twitter and Facebook. No, the department – which at least one presidential contender, Rep. Ron Paul, believes is out of control – is wasting valuable and limited assets evaluating media reports, organizations and news sites like The Drudge Report for anti-government attitudes and social unrest.

But wait, you ask. What does monitoring American-based Web sites and social media applications have to do with the war on terror? Probably nothing, but you may remember that the Department of Homeland Security was born out of legislation passed immediately after the 9/11 attacks to protect “the American people from terrorist threats.”

First Amendment, anyone?

You’re not the only one who isn’t buying the spying. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog organization looking to protect civil liberties, privacy, the First Amendment and constitutional values in an increasingly interconnected world, has convinced a House subcommittee that the DHS activity is suspicious enough to warrant closer examination. The hearings come on the heels of the group’s acquisition of some 300 pages of DHS documents resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request which lay bare the agency’s “intelligence gathering” activities online.

“The Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of political dissent has no legal basis and is contrary to core First Amendment principles,” says EPIC’s director, Ginger McCall, who says a government agency that monitors what ordinary Americans are saying about federal policies goes too far, and has direct implications on freedom of speech.

“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” she said. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties.”

EPIC says documents it has obtained show that DHS has used contractors to monitor Twitter, Facebook, Hulu, Wikileaks, Drudge and other news sites including the Huffington Post. The documents reveal that the contractors were required to provide DHS with reaction regarding potential “threats and hazards,” as well as any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) ability to prevent, protect and respond, to recovery efforts or activities related to any crisis or events which impact National Planning Scenarios.”

The program should also highlight “both positive and negative reports on FEMA, C.I.A., C.B.P., ICE, etc., as well as organizations outside of D.H.S.,” the documents said.

Looking over your shoulder

Now, DHS officials admit that, yes, the agency was monitoring the Web for any negative opinion of the government. But they said the operation was only undertaken as a one-and-done test, then quickly dropped, because it didn’t meet “operational requirements or privacy standards” which “expressly prohibit reporting on individuals’ First Amendment activities.”

EPIC says that, based on what it has discovered that explanation doesn’t ring true. Rather, the organization says DHS believes the monitoring program is one that should be repeated.

“They are completely out of bounds here. The idea that the government is constantly peering over your shoulder and listening to what you are saying creates a very chilling effect to legitimate dissent,” says McCall.

The public will soon know.

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