Apple’s patent raised eyebrows
On July 16, 2015, Apple was granted a patent for a “Method and System for Delivering Advertisements to Mobile Terminals.” This is the abstract for the patent:
Method and system for targeted advertising of goods and services to users of mobile terminals, based for example on the users’ profile. Goods and services are marketed to particular target groups of users sharing a common profile which may be selected to increase the likelihood of the users responding to the advertisements and purchasing the advertised goods and services. The common profile of users may be based on the amount of pre-paid credit available to each user. An advantage of such targeted advertising is that only advertisements for goods and services which particular users can afford, are delivered to these users.
You can read the patent here, if you enjoy dry and technical reading. Really, it’s like watching paint dry.
Let’s talk about the rumors
There’s been a lot of rumors going around the Internet about this patent. “Apple is going to check your credit card balance.” “Apple is working on a system to show you ads based on your credit card balance.” The headlines of techie blogs sound ominous, but the reality is that it’s going to be difficult for Apple to get your credit card balance.
Let’s say a merchant does have your credit card number. That doesn’t mean they can call and retrieve the balance. Although it might be available on your credit report, this information is also highly regulated. It’s a little far-fetched for Apple to get permission to use that information on your report for ad targeting.
What’s actually likely to happen is already happening
What is likely? Apple is very likely to target you based on prior purchases and your shopping history. Many companies already do this, but it does appear that Apple is going to be analyzing your data about your available credit to make purchase suggestions. This is almost a turnaround from a statement made by Tim Cook at a dinner hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center:
“Our privacy is being attacked on multiple fronts… I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Advertisers have more access to data than ever before. It might benefit them to use the data to infer which customers can actually afford their product. Instead of focusing on driving desire for a product, target those individuals who will make the sale. After all, isn’t that the whole point of advertising, making the sale?
Small businesses: CapitalOne, GoFundMe want to give you money
(BUSINESS FINANCE) Capital One, GoFundMe, and others are joining forces for good, providing ways for consumers to help lift up small businesses in a time of great need.
Small businesses account for around 44% of U.S. economic activity, according to USA Today. Finding a way to buoy them up now is crucial to their survival. We cannot afford to lose the 58% of small businesses who say they may go under forever.
Short of in-person shopping, how can we as consumers, help? Consumers can now help through smallunites.org, an organization pulled together to share several ways to support small businesses.
The Small Unites platform also provides ways for small business owners to connect with helpful resources, including business and marketing advice. In a surprising twist, the entities tossing this lifesaver to small businesses at risk of sinking are larger companies, including Capital One, HundredX, GoFundMe, the National Urban League, and Ogilvy, among others.
Six months after the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders were issued in the U.S., many small businesses are still struggling to stay afloat. Some are still operating through curbside or online orders only. Others are operating with a reduced capacity, limiting the number of people in their stores at any given time.
The PPP funds have been spent, as have stimulus checks, and many people are watching their budgets. Despite wishful thinking and finally some success with mask wearing, we are nowhere near a full reopening in this country. Even if it were allowed, the majority of people are still social distancing as much as possible and are finding other ways to shop – mainly online.
GoFundMe has a platform to donate money directly to a specific small business for those who can afford to. Consumers may also make a tax deductible donation to the overall fund that distributes the money through small business grants, such as the Small Business Relief Fund via GoFundMe. This money will be sent out in $500 grants to small businesses who apply and qualify.
Some people want to help but are also strapped for cash. Small Unites has come up with a way to contribute without spending or donating money. With HundredX, consumers write a review of a small business on the HundredX platform. HundredX will then donate $2.00 per review to programs in conjunction with the National Urban League to programs supporting minority-owned businesses. Each contributor is able to write up to 50 reviews for a grand total of $100.00 per person. HundredX will continue to donate per review, up to their $1M program cap.
Small business owners, things may look bleak from where you’re sitting. I urge you to seek out some of this support, provided at no cost to you. In addition to perhaps the most urgent need, money, Small Unites also provides tips and guidelines from Ogilvy to businesses that sign up for the program.
These tips include marketing, social media, and communication advice. The Small Unites website also has a “Shop” section to locate small businesses in the immediate area where consumers can shop right now.
The U.S. can’t afford to lose its small businesses. These are often unique places infused with the owner’s passion. Small businesses often support local economies, too, providing a marketplace for local makers, farmers, and other creative people. They are vital businesses, often representing the beating hearts of our communities.
For the skeptical among us, of course Capital One, GoFundMe, and the rest are going to get PR brownie points for this. That doesn’t make the assistance any less significant to saving our small businesses. Motive matters, but let’s not starve on principal. It makes no sense. Someone at these large institutions must also realize that it’s the many small businesses out there that contribute 44% of our economic activity.
Helping the mom-and-pop shops isn’t merely a publicity stunt. It strengthens our economy as a whole. This lifeline also has the ability to strengthen morale and restore hope when they are in short—or at least inconsistent—supply. Knowing that a favorite business is managing to stay afloat amid turbulent waters buoys our spirits.
Small businesses, go sign up for all of the Small Unites assistance! Everybody else, let’s all pull together, with the help of these big corporations, to try and save our small businesses. We need them for our economy. We need them for our mental health. We need them, period.
Bitcoins worth $300K recovered from an old zip file
(BUSINESS FINANCE) Losing the password to your Bitcoin wallet often means potentially losing your cryptocurrency. But this didn’t stop a Russian investor from getting his money back.
At some point in our life, we’ve all lost or misplaced something. I’ve misplaced my phone and keys more times than I can count. They always have a way of finding themselves between the couch cushions. But have you ever lost the private keys to access your $300,000 worth of bitcoins? Neither have I. However, this is exactly what happened to a very unlucky man.
Last month, Defcon’s 28th annual event took place. The event is the most influential security hacking conference held in Las Vegas. Michael Stay, a reverse engineer and current CTO for Pyrofex Corp, shared the story with attendees. He started his presentation by saying, “And today I’m gonna to tell you about how we recovered several hundred thousand dollars worth of Bitcoin from an encrypted zip file.”
About twenty years ago, Stay published a cryptanalysis paper detailing how to break into encrypted zip files. This paper led an anonymous Russian investor to find Stay and send him a surprising message on LinkedIn. “So in October of last year, a guy contacts me out of the blue and says, “I read your paper on known plaintext attacks, and I’ve got this password that I’ve forgotten. Is there anything you can do to help?”” Stay said.
In 2016, the investor purchased $10,000 worth of bitcoins and placed the private keys in an encrypted zip file. After the Bitcoin boom, the purchase proved to be a great investment. There was just one slight problem: He forgot the password and had no way of accessing the Bitcoins.
After stumbling on Stay’s old cryptanalysis paper, he hoped Stay would help him break into the zip file and recover the lost keys. When Stay looked into the case, he soon realized this would be a difficult task. The attack he had written years ago needed five files to break into the zip file. This man only had two files in the archive.
With only two files, this would take Stay a lot of time and money to find a solution to the problem. After doing some calculations, he told the guy it would cost him around $100,000 to attempt to recover the keys. He simply couldn’t use regular “off-the-shelf software” to get this done.
The man agreed without hesitation. Stay’s mind was blown away with his response. “I knew he probably had several hundred thousand dollars of Bitcoin in this thing,” he said. The pressure was on!
To break-in, Stay enlisted his business partner, Nash Foster. Foster helped adapt his CPU based attacks to run on GPUs, and they rented a GPU farm. “Our initial expectation was we would do engineering for a couple of months, and then the attack would have to run for several months to succeed,” Foster told WIRED.
Four months after the initial LinkedIn message, they began the attack. “We had tried it in all our test archives that we’d created. It worked fine,” Stay said. They were hopeful. “Ten days passed, and it didn’t find a key. And we were distraught, pulling our hair out. What have we done wrong?” Stay asked himself.
After combing through the data, the investor, who is a programmer himself, discovered a bug in the GPU. Once Stay and Foster fixed the bug, they were able to restart their attack. Within a day and a half, they found the three keys they needed to decrypt the archive.
In the end, the improvements made to Stay’s old attack made a significant difference. Instead of the $100,000 and year of processing time that Stay estimated it would take, they were able to do it for less than $10,000 in two weeks of processing time.
“Our client was very pleased and gave us a big bonus! And that’s how we recovered his Bitcoin folder,” Stay said.
According to a 2017 research by analysis company, Chainanalysis, nearly 400 million Bitcoins are already lost. Although Bitcoins have no physical form, they can still be lost. Forgotten private keys and passwords, and discarded and lost devices account for this high number.
The Russian investor wasn’t so unlucky after all!
Only 4% of small businesses asked family, friends for aid during pandemic
(BUSINESS FINANCE) Small businesses looked all over for financial aid — everywhere, it seems, but their communities.
In the wake of the world shutting down, small business owners were—and still are—understandably desperate for financial aid to help keep their companies afloat, with almost 80% of small business owners accepting some kind of support from the federal government.
So it’s interesting that, despite ongoing conversations and continual delays of government relief, only about 4% of small business owners turned to friends or family for financial help.
LendingTree, an online marketplace for lenders, analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent survey of small business owners and found that, even in places where government outreach was minimal, small businesses were even more reluctant to turn to their communities than they were to implore the government for help.
But the same rang true for states that asked for the most aid from the government as well, with Washington D.C. topping that list with almost 15% of polled small businesses turning to the government; nevertheless, only a scant 4.1% of these businesses regarded their communities as potential saviors.
No matter how one looks at the data, the takeaway is that small businesses still aren’t getting anywhere close to the level of aid they require—and this isn’t even close to over. Indeed, LendingTree’s Derek Miller fully expects the lack of support for small businesses to get worse before it gets better.
“[W]e may see some kind of small business crisis in the same way we could see an eviction crisis now that the coronavirus relief bill unemployment benefits have expired,” admitted Miller in the initial report.
Despite optimism, small businesses continue to struggle in a post-COVID market, it’s important to remember that these are the companies which are hit the hardest in times like these. Small business owners stand to lose everything for which they have worked—in some cases, for their whole lives—in the blink of an eye; yet these same owners show what some may construe as compassion for their communities in refusing to ask for aid.
If ever we needed a reminder to buy local and support small businesses rather than corporate behemoths, this is it.
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