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Net neutrality could be killed under President Trump

(TECH NEWS) We rarely take a political position on anything here at AG, but we’ve long advocated for the policy supporting net neutrality, which could be in danger under Trump.

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With transition comes change

It’s common for presidential transitions to herald changes in perspectives and thus policies, especially when the president-elect hails from a different political party than his predecessor. U.S. History is replete with examples of shifts and changes in programs and policies, but certain principles have stood time’s tests for the republic.

There used to be clear actions of America’s power, ensuring the marginalized within our borders were protected, and that every person was the beneficiary of the powers of a nation that protected families by making certain that caveat emptor was no longer the de facto or the de jure law of the land. When Teddy Roosevelt came to office, for example, filled with a zeal for reform, he was swift to act, ensuring people could eat untainted meat, work in a safer environment for fewer hours, and that the corporations could no longer be controlled by monopolies of power.

America has previously passed needed laws and regulations to ensure that the rights of the many were not impeded by the powers of the few. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if net neutrality will belong to that legacy of protection.

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What is net neutrality and why should I care?

Here’s the question: Do you think that your internet service provider (ISP) should allow you to access legal content and applications on an equal basis, favoring none and allowing all sources without having to pay premiums to do so?

If you do, you support the concept of net neutrality — and you’re not alone. Content providers, including Netflix, Google, and Apple, along with millions of others who filed public comments with the Federal Communications Commission last year, support the concept of net neutrality.

Current rules prohibit ISP’s from charging content providers more for faster access to their customers or deliberately slowing the content of competitors.

Net neutrality keeps accessing content on the internet free from bias of who is providing it. Supporters focus on the fact that consumers pay for access to the things that they want to see. Consumers want to access all content at the speeds that they were promised when they bought their plan. The FCC’s adoption of the Open Internet Rule in 2015, protecting net neutrality, has — so far, anyway — made it past the legal challenges that have come its way.

So, who doesn’t agree with that? Typically, dozens of broadband companies, including giants such as Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and AT&T. Their position is that the net neutrality regulations are overly prescriptive and act as a deterrent to innovation and further investment.

And the new president and his FCC advisers agree with them.

Changes are afoot

Trump’s recent appointment of advisers Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach to the FCC transition team serve as a likely herald regarding the future of net neutrality, as well as the FCC itself.

To be fair, we saw this coming. While not commenting on many things tech during the course of his campaign, Trump did speak directly on net neutrality. “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media,” he tweeted in 2014.

Interesting point, except that it reflects a lack of understanding as to what net neutrality is and how the policy works.

The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that ended in 1987. At its core, it required FCC-licensed TV and radio stations to provide a portion of their programming to issues of controversy and public importance, ensuring opposing viewpoints were aired.

The Washington Post explained the Fairness Doctrine further, writing, “[t]his meant that programs on politics were required to include opposing opinions on the topic under discussion. Broadcasters had an active duty to determine the spectrum of views on a given issue and include those people best suited to representing those views in their programming.”

There’s no missing nuance of Trump’s tweet. His point was that net neutrality rules would somehow censor conservative media. Since the regulations don’t address the specifics of content, and, in fact call for all content to be treated equally, the message is somewhat clear: I don’t get it, but the ISP’s beat content providers.

So, who’s advising the President?

It’s clear that Trump has taken the position that net neutrality isn’t long for the keeping, and the role of the FCC is possibly subject to change as well.

Jamison and Eisenach have both been connected with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI focuses on limiting government intervention in business, and providing businesses the ability to operate without what some would call government interference, and others would call government oversight.

While testifying in front of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014, Eisenach took the position that the broadband market, which is another way of identifying ISPs, is “[not] a cause for concern,” as the market was neither a monopoly nor “cozy duopoly”. It’s not as if history has been vacant of examples of competing businesses within the same field, in which a monopoly did not exist, engaging in collusion to ensure satisfactory business conditions for them all.

While conceding that ISPs have power in the market, and that power “can create the incentive for firms to deny access to their platforms”, he posited that there was no reason for the FCC to inject itself in regulatory affairs because these conditions weren’t unique to the broadband ISP field. Therefore, continuing his logic trail to its end, since the FCC doesn’t need to be involved in regulatory affairs over broadband ISPs, there must not be an existing problem.

Thus, “net neutrality regulation cannot be justified on grounds of enhancing consumer welfare or protecting the public interest”.

Jamison’s approach to the issue is similar. Writing for AEI, he took the stance that FCC’s regulations regarding net neutrality were necessary only if a monopoly of broadband providers existed. Predictably, he doesn’t believe that there is. “If the U.S. is to continue to be a place where consumers, entrepreneurs, and other enterprises can develop the next generation of information technologies, the country must move beyond net neutrality controversies,” he wrote. “This means letting the industry make business decisions and regulating only when monopolies take over.”

Even in “instances where there are monopolies,” Jamison continued, “it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services.” Let’s let that sink in for just a moment before continuing, shall we?

His solution? Almost everything that the FCC does can be handled by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services.

But of course. We wouldn’t want an entire federal commission only dedicated to the regulation of public communications in the 21st century. I’m certain those other agencies aren’t too busy with what’s currently in front of them. Surely they can shoehorn in these other responsibilities, as well as get up to speed on the issues facing the FCC in an expedient and efficient fashion.

Jeff Sessions, a United States Senator from Alabama and the presumptive nominee for U.S. Attorney General, is also on record as opposing net neutrality regulations, thus likely securing the perspective for the Trump administration on the near future of Internet regulation. Given the public statements of the two men assisting Trump in the FCC transition team, it is also likely that the FCC may be phased out or leashed to the point in which there are no real regulations on how the companies that control the means of our nation’s communications do so.

We’re not neutral about net neutrality

We at The American Genius believe that reasonable people can certainly disagree on how the country is best run. What we don’t stand for is turning a blind eye to dangers in front of us. Jefferson had it right: some truths are simply self-evident. And those truths are worth defending, loudly and vigorously.

A monopoly of public utilities has rarely proven to be a winning strategy for innovation in the long run, and an unregulated monopoly grows staler still.

Without anyone in a dedicated federal agency to look out after our best interests when it comes to the volume and exchange of ideas and content on the Internet, it will fall to each of us to ensure that our ISP of choice understands what we choose to do with our dollars should they decide to throttle content. It behooves us to ensure that our US Representatives and Senators understand what we will choose to do with our support as well.

#NetNeutrality

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Tech News

Want to know how your passwords could get hacked?

(TECH NEWS) While we all know that passwords can be hacked, it is rare that we know how they’re hacked.

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Ever wonder how passwords get stolen? I like to imagine a team of hackers like The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, all crowded in some hideout conducting illegal computer business based on tips from rogue FBI Agents.

Turns out there’s a little more to hacking than waiting for Fox Mulder to show up with hints.

Most of the common tactics involve guessing passwords utilizing online and offline techniques to acquire entry. One of the main methods is a dictionary attack.

This method automatically tries everything listed in a small file, the “dictionary,” which is populated with common passwords, like 123456 or qwerty. If your password is something tragically simple, you’re out of luck in a dictionary attack.

To protect yourself, use strong single-use passwords for each individual account. You can keep track of these with a password manager, because no one is expecting you to remember a string of nonsensical numbers, letters, and characters that make up a strong password.

Of course, there are still ways for hackers to figure out even complex passwords.

In a brute force attack, every possible character combination is tried. For example, if the password is required to have at least one uppercase letter and one number, a brute force attack will meet these specifications when generating potential passwords.

Brute force attacks also include the most commonly used alphanumeric combinations, like a dictionary attack. Your best bet against this type of attack is using extra symbols like & or $ if the password allows, or including a variety of variables whenever possible.

Spidering is another online method similar to a dictionary attack. Hackers may target a specific business, and try a series of passwords related to the company. This usually involves using a search “spider” to collate a series of related terms into a custom word list.

While spidering can be devastating if successful, this kind of attack is diverted with strong network security and single-use passwords that don’t tie in easily searchable personal information.

Malware opens up some more fun options for hackers, especially if it features a keylogger, which monitors and records everything you type. With a keylogger, all your accounts could potentially be hacked, leaving you SOL. There are thousands of malware variants, and they can go undetected for a while.

Fortunately, malware is relatively easy to avoid by regularly updating your antivirus and antimalware software. Oh, and don’t click on sketchy links or installation packages containing bundleware. You can also use script blocking tools.

The delightfully named (but in actuality awful) rainbow table method is typically an offline attack where hackers acquire an encrypted list of passwords. The passwords will be hashed, meaning it looks completely different from what you would type to log in.

However, attackers can run plaintext passwords through a hashtag algorithm and compare the results to their file with encrypted passwords. To save time, hackers can use or purchase a “rainbow table”, which is a set of precomputed algorithms with specific values and potential combinations.

The downside here is rainbow tables take up a lot of space, and hackers are limited to the values listed in the table. Although rainbow tables open up a nightmare storm of hacking potential, you can protect yourself by avoiding sites that limit you to very short passwords, or use SHA1 or MD5 as their password algorithms.

There’s also phishing, which isn’t technically hacking, but is one of the more common ways passwords are stolen. In a phishing attempt, a spoof email requiring immediate attention links to a fake login landing page, where users are prompted to input their login credentials.

The credentials are then stolen, sold, used for shady purposes, or an unfortunate combination of all the above. Although spam distribution has greatly increased over the past year, you can protect yourself with spam filters, link checkers, and generally not trusting anything requesting a ton of personal information tied to a threat of your account being shut down.

Last but certainly not least, there’s social engineering. This is a masterpiece of human manipulation, and involves an attacker posing as someone who needs login, or password, building access information. For example, posing as a plumbing company needing access to a secure building, or a tech support team requiring passwords.

This con is avoidable with education and awareness of security protocol company wide. And also you know, not providing sensitive information to anyone who asks. Even if they seem like a very trustworthy electrician, or promise they definitely aren’t Count Olaf.

Moral of the story? Your passwords will never be completely safe, but you can take steps to prevent some avoidable hacking methods.

Always have a single-use password for each account, use a password manager to store complex passwords, update malware, keep your eye out for phishing attempts, and don’t you dare make your password “passoword.”

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Should social networks fear Jumbo, the new privacy app?

(TECHNOLOGY) Although iOS only (for now), Jumbo has launched and could put a dent in some of the nefariousness of social media networks…

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Like virtually every other online outlet, we’ve both talked about web and app privacy and complained bitterly about the invariable fall of online rights. However, while we’ve been talking the talk, a company called Jumbo has been cyber-walking the cybersecurity walk.

Jumbo – an iPhone app focused on keeping your online trails as private as possible – has a simple premise: allowing social media users to manage their online privacy with a few taps rather than having to navigate each individual service’s infuriatingly complex labyrinth of privacy settings. Instead of having to visit each individual app you want to clean up, you can simply open Jumbo, select your preferences, and wait for the magic to happen.

Jumbo’s features range from cleaning up social media timelines and old posts to erasing entire searches or resetting privacy information; while it currently varies depending on the social media service in question, Jumbo’s one commonality is its simplicity.

The star of Jumbo’s presentation is its aptly-named Cleaning Mode—a feature which allows users to wipe anything from tweets to old Google searches. Jumbo’s developers also assure users that the ability to remove things like Facebook photos is in the works, making Jumbo’s efforts to clean up your digital life that much more ubiquitous.

It is worth noting that some users have encountered limitations on the number of tweets they can delete, so you may have to batch-remove information until this bug is resolved.

When using Jumbo, you’ll also find an encrypted back-up feature that allows you to download—or use cloud storage for—old photos and files. It isn’t as dramatic as Jumbo’s primary functions, but anyone looking to make a dent in purging their online footprints will surely benefit from being able to encrypt and save their information for a rainy day through one interface.

At the time of this writing, Jumbo is prepared to assist with privacy options related to Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon Alexa, but the app’s developers intend to incorporate support for platforms such as Tinder and Instagram in the future.

While Jumbo is currently restricted to iPhones, Jumbo’s maker Pierre Valade has mentioned that an Android version is “on [their] list”. In the meantime, iPhone users should strongly consider taking Jumbo for a spin.

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How to opt out of Google’s robots calling your business phone

(TECH) Google’s robots now call businesses to set appointments, but not all companies are okay with talking to an artificial intelligence tool like a person. Here’s how to opt out.

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You know what’s not hard? Calling a restaurant and making a reservation. You know what’s even easier? Making that reservation though OpenTable. You know what we really don’t need, but it’s here so we have to deal with it? Google Duplex.

Falling under “just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it,” Duplex, Google’s eerily human-sounding AI chat agent that can arrange appointments for Pixel users via Google Assistant has rolled out in several cities including New York, Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Francisco which now means you can have a robot do menial tasks for you.

There’s even a demo video of someone using Google Duplex to find an area restaurant and make a reservation and in the time it took him to tell the robot what to do, he could’ve called and booked a reservation himself.

Aside from booking the reservation for you, Duplex can also offer you updates on your reservation or even cancel it. Big whoop. What’s difficult to understand is the need or even demand for Duplex. If you’re already asking Google Assistant to make the reservation, what’s stopping you from making it yourself? And the most unsettling thing about Duplex? It’s too human.

It’s unethical to imply human interaction. We should feel squeamish about a robo-middleman making our calls and setting our appointments when we’re perfectly capable of doing these things.

However, there is hope. Google Duplex is here, but you don’t have to get used to it.

Your company can opt out of accepting calls by changing the setting in your Google My Business accounts. If robots are already calling restaurants and businesses in your city, give your staff a heads-up. While they may receive reservations via Duplex, at least they’ll be prepared to talk to a robot.

And if you plan on not opting out, at least train your staff on what to do when the Google robots call.

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