Facebook is more dangerous than ever. You can make it stop

Cambridge Analytica's chief executive officer Alexander Nix. His firm recently found itself in the spotlight for misrepresenting itself and harvesting data from millions of Facebook users to aid the Trump campaign / AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Remember the Marlboro Man? He was a sexy vision of the American west, created by a cigarette corporation to sell a fatal product. People knew this and used that product anyway, at great detriment to themselves and those around them who quietly inhaled toxic secondhand smoke, day into long night.

An agreement between states and tobacco companies banished the rugged cowboy at the end of the 1990s, but the symbol is useful even 20 years later as we contend with a less deadly but no less frightening corporate force. Social networks that many of us signed up for in simpler times — a proverbial first smoke — have become gargantuan archives of our personal data. Now, that data is collected and leveraged by bad actors in an attempt to manipulate you and your friends. 

The time for ignorance is over. We need social responsibility to counterbalance a bad product. The public learned in alarming detail this weekend how a Trump-aligned firm called Cambridge Analytica managed to collect data on 50 million people using Facebook. All, as the Guardian put it, to “predict and influence choices at the ballot box.” Individuals who opted into Cambridge Analytica’s service — which was disguised as a personality quiz on Facebook — made their friends vulnerable to this manipulation, as well.

There were better days on the social network. When you signed up for Facebook, it’s likely because it was an alluring way for you to connect with old friends and share pictures. You hadn’t ever imagined “Russian trolls” or “fake news” or, lord knows, “Cambridge Analytica.” Chances are, you signed up before 2016, when Wired recently declared the social network had begun “two years of hell,” thanks in no small part to reporting efforts from current Mashable staffer Michael Nuñez

By then, the vast majority of Facebook’s 239 million monthly users in America had registered, had likely built an entire virtual life of friends and photos and status updates that were primed to be harvested by forces they couldn’t yet see or understand. Unlike those who continued smoking after the Marlboro Man arrived (two years after a seminal 1952 article in Reader’s Digest explained the dangers of cigarettes to the broad American public), these Facebook users lit up before they knew the cancer was coming.

Running with a health metaphor, Wired‘s “two years of hell” feature was promoted with a photo illustration by Jake Rowland that depicted a bloodied and bruised Mark Zuckerberg:

Image: photo illustration by jake rowland/esto. courtesy conde nast.

Zuckerberg may have been assaulted from all sides, but we — his users — took more of a licking than he did.

That’s because Facebook’s past two years have been all about ethical and technological crises that hurt users most of all. A favorite editor of mine hated that word, “users,” because it made it sound as though we were talking about something other than people. I can agree with that, but also see now that “users” is the word of moment: Facebook’s problems extend forever out of the idea that we are all different clumps of data generation. Human life is incidental.

Facebook’s problems extend forever out of the idea that we are all different clumps of data generation

The photos you post are interpreted by Facebook’s programs to automatically recognize your face; the interests you communicate via text are collated and cross-examined by algorithms to serve you advertising. Our virtual social connections enrich this marketing web and make advertisers more powerful.

And many of us open the app to scroll without really knowing why. Facebook literally presents us with a “feed.” We are users the way drug addicts are users, and we’re used like a focus group is used to vet shades of red in a new can of Coca-Cola.

None of this has been secret for some time. Braver, more fed up, or perhaps more responsible users have deactivated their Facebook accounts before. But any change they made was on the basis of their experience as individuals. New revelations demand we think more in terms of our online societies.

I have exactly 1,000 Facebook friends, and about 10 actual, best friends I see on a regular basis. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to care much about those other 990 Facebook friends until revelations from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We have to admit now that the choices we make on Facebook can directly impact others.

The social network’s policies have changed since Cambridge Analytica’s 2016 operation. But Facebook’s business model — gather data on people and profit from that data — hasn’t. We cannot expect it to. But a reasonable person would anticipate it’s only a matter of time until the next major ethical breach is revealed to the public.

We know from bad faith campaigns surrounding Brexit and the 2016 U.S. election that individual users are extremely susceptible to viral disinformation. But until now, it was less clear how Facebook’s own tools could be used by third parties to manipulate an entire network of friends in an attempt to manipulate voter behavior.

Your irresponsibility on Facebook can impact a lot of people. A link you share can catch on and influence minds even if it’s totally falsified; more to this immediate concern, a stupid quiz you take could have opened your friends’ information up in a way they’d never have expected.

You could throw the pack away and deactivate your Facebook account altogether. It will get harder the longer you wait — the more photos you post there, or apps you connect to it.

Or you could be judicious about what you post and share, and what apps you allow access to your account. There are easy ways to review this.

But just remember: There’s no precedent for a social network of this size. We can’t guess what catastrophe it sets off next. Will a policy change someday mean it’s open season on your data, even if that data has limited protections in the here and now? 

Be smart: It’s not just you, or me, out there alone.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/19/protect-yourself-and-your-friends-from-facebook/

E-cig vapor tested positive for arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals

E-cigarette vapor has tested positive for lead and arsenic.
Image: Getty Images/EyeEm

Bad news, vapers. Your e-cigs might not be the healthier alternative to cigarettes you think they are.

A new study has found that vaping may be exposing e-cigarette users to harmful toxins and carcinogens, like lead, chromium, and even arsenic.

The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, sampled 56 vape devices. They gathered these e-cigs from actual vapers who they recruited for the study at smoke shops and vape conventions. Prior studies have only looked at newly purchased e-cigs, and the authors of this study wanted to test devices that people actually use for a more representative sample, since they often contain modifications and wear-and-tear.

The study’s authors tested three elements of the e-cigs: the liquid itself, the liquid inside of the vape pen’s chamber, and the aerosol (or vapor). They were specifically interested in whether the metal coil that vape pens use to heat the liquid in order to turn it into vapor was leeching or generating toxic metals. 

And it turns out, their hypothesis was right. There was not a significant amount of toxic metals in the e-cig liquid itself. But in over half of the e-cigs, the liquid inside the dispenser and the aerosol contained significant levels of chromium, nickel, and lead. According to the study’s authors, chromium and nickel have been linked to respiratory disease and lung cancer. And lead can cause neurotoxicity and cardiovascular disease — there is also no safe amount of lead exposure.

“It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals—which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale,” study senior author Ana María Rule, PhD, MHS, an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, said in a statement.

Troublingly, the authors also found arsenic in over 10 percent of the sampled e-cigs. Unlike the metals, arsenic was present in the liquid, liquid in the dispenser, and aerosol alike. While the study’s authors hypothesize that the metals appear in the e-cig vapor thanks to the metal coils, they do not know how arsenic apparently finds it way into the e-cig refill liquid itself.

I asked some acquaintances who vape what they thought of these findings. These vapers, who preferred not to be named, used to be daily smokers. But they almost entirely vape now; vaping, they have said, is what allowed them to quit cigarettes. 

“I’m not really surprised to be honest,” one vaper said. “I never expected them to be good for me.”

“My question is why is arsenic a necessary ingredient,” said another. “I would love to understand why these toxins are remotely necessary.”

Cigarettes, of course, also contain toxins including lead and arsenic — with the hugely unhealthy bonus of inhaling burnt tobacco, which itself is damaging to the lungs. And several studies have shown that vaping is far healthier than smoking. One showed that vapers have far fewer toxic substances in their bodies than smokers; another suggested that the cancer risk of vaping is one percent of smoking’s cancer risk. However, a study that claimed vaping was 95 percent healthier than smoking was widely criticized. And study author Dr. Ana María Rule sees a comparable risk in terms of metal exposure between e-cigs and cigarettes.

“We found the emission rates were similar between cigarettes and e-cigarettes for elements like chromium, nickel, zinc, lead and silver (all toxic to the lung),” Dr. Rule told Mashble over email. “We found lower concentrations in e-cigarettes for cadmium and arsenic.”

Plus, comparing e-cigs to cigarettes is complicated. Dr. Rule said cigarette risk is easier to quantify, because they can measure risk by cigarette. With e-cigs, risk is studied by a designated amount of puffs, which may or may not represent an accurate unit for any given user. 

Furthermore, comparing vaping to cigarettes was not the study’s authors’ primary aim. 

“We know there are many young vapers that have never smoked,” Dr. Rule said. “A better comparison for them is to breathing ambient air, so for them this represents an increase in risk.”

The study’s authors hope that their findings will prompt the FDA to regulate e-cigs for the presence of these toxic chemicals, as evidence mounts that vaping is not a risk-free endeavor.

“Our results add to the existing evidence that e-cigarettes are a relevant source of exposure to a wide variety of toxic metals,” the study’s authors write. “Due to potential toxicity resulting from chronic exposure to metals in e-cigarette aerosols, additional research is needed to more precisely quantify metal exposures resulting from e-cigarette use and their implications for human health, and to support regulatory standards to protect public health.”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/23/e-cigarettes-toxic-metals-lead-arsenic/

In 2017, the Apple Watch became the most important wearable in the world

Apple is victorious in the wearable wars at least for now.
Image: bob al-greene/mashable

The Apple Watch conquered all comers and became the most important wearable in the world in 2017.  

The iPhone maker flexed its muscles to take over the young wearable space in a relatively short period. Apple only released its first smartwatch in April 2015, and its latest, the Series 3, is just the third iteration of the device. 

“Apple has shipped 34.4 million smartwatches worldwide since it entered the category in 2015,” said Canalys analyst Vincent Thielke in an email to Mashable. “In other words, Apple accounts for 51.6 percent of all smartwatches ever shipped.” 

These numbers comes from Canalys’ estimates, not an official tabulation from Apple itself, since the company doesn’t publicize total Apple Watch sales — but the estimates still point to dominance in the wearables space, where smartwatches currently reign supreme

The Apple Watch’s success is certainly a result of the company’s status as one of the most popular (and valuable) brands in the world, but it wasn’t Apple’s branding presence alone that made it the wearable king in 2017. 

Third time’s the charm

The biggest reason Apple won the wearable war this year was the realization of the Apple Watch’s potential as a standalone device. 

The addition of LTE connectivity finally showed skittish consumers that the company was willing to cut the link between the smartwatch and the iPhone. Standalone functionality has long been a point of contention for those who couldn’t justify such an expensive device that only served as an extension of the smartphone in their pocket.

That new feature appears to have paid off. Demand for the new Series 3 devices has reportedly outpaced supply, and Apple is primed to sell even more in 2018 as it brings more devices to market. 

Apple isn’t the first with smartwatch with LTE connectivity — LG and Samsung have both released their own standalone devices — but Apple’s market clout helped the feature make more of an impact. Thielke thinks the brand was helped by its strong ties with all of the major wireless carriers, which he said has been essential to showcase the new functionalities.

The Apple Watch Series 3.

Image:  LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

Another of the keys to Apple’s success has been its ability to expand its focus beyond fitness and into wider health categories. 

“We’re flipping the page and looking at health,” IDC Research Manager Ramon Llamas told Mashable on a phone call. “People want to know more about themselves and how they can lead a better life.” 

Llamas said an industry-wide focus on health features is giving consumers more value and functionality than the simplistic fitness trackers that once dominated the market, and Apple is leading the charge.

The company teamed up with Stanford researchers for a heart health research study, and the FDA just cleared a mobile electrocardiogram (EKG) band accessory for the Apple Watch from AliveCor. Apple’s top-secret health facility is centered around collecting data for the smartwatch, and rumors about Tim Cook sporting a special glucose-tracking prototype could hint at even more revolutionary features.  

Thinning of the herd

But the Series 3 isn’t perfect. The device is expensive, and a monthly data plan costs extra on top of the already steep purchase price. Apple even admitted in a rare moment of fallibility there was a glitch in how the service worked at launch, although the issue has since been fixed.

The Apple Watch’s shortcomings were trivial compared to the issues faced by other wearable makers during 2017. Competitors faced bigger challenges throughout the year, and some were eliminated from the space entirely. 

Fitbit began the year with layoffs and didn’t release the smartwatch CEO James Park promised until October, while old stalwarts like Jawbone, Motorola, and TomTom totally killed off their operations at various points. Android Wear, meanwhile, is a mess that got no better with version 2.0, which was released in February.

More skirmishes on the horizon

Just because Apple won the war in 2017 doesn’t mean that other companies are totally eliminated from relevancy. Llamas isn’t fully convinced of Apple’s dominance, or if its reign will be permanent. 

“We’re still only talking about a couple million units quarter in and quarter out,” he said. The war might be over, so to speak, but there’s room for other companies to carve out their own space and take a shot at the king.

Apple wasn’t always on top this year, showing that there is space for other makers. Xiaomi topped the wearables market twice during the year with its cheap fitness trackers, and Fitbit clung on stolidly though its ups and downs.

Fitbit Ionic

Image: Raymond Wong/Mashable

Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch didn’t drop until October, but it just received a slick new OS update that could actually give consumers a reason to check it out. The company, like Apple, is working to develop health-focused technologies for its smartwatch. 

Samsung’s Gear watches could find their own audience, and if Google can find a way to make Android Wear better, other makers like LG could still have a shot at success. The rise of AI could be a major boon here, since Assistant is becoming more ingrained in consumers’ lives through Google’s most recent round of hardware products, and it would make sense for users in the Google ecosystem to open up a spot for it on their wrists.  

For now, though, Apple is on top. 2017 was a good year for the company’s wearable efforts, and the future looks bright. 

Every editorial product is independently selected by Mashable journalists. If you buy something featured, we may earn an affiliate commission which helps support our journalism.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/12/12/apple-watch-won-the-wearable-war/

Equifax breach proves we cant leave it up to businesses to protect us

Equifax gets a cyber security score of zero.
Image: RHONA WISE/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

The Equifax data breach disaster is the last straw.

This can’t go on. 

We can’t let companies flout cyber security best practices and common sense, and we can no longer rely on Social Security numbers as a secure and discrete form of identification. Equifax hasn’t shared its own cybersecurity practices, but it’s fair to say even if they were indeed subpar, it’ll likely survive this storm longterm, even while victims suffer.

It’s time for some changes.

Equifax, a company best known for helping us check our credit scores and protecting consumers from identity theft(!) announced Thursday that it suffered a massive hack impacting 143 million Americans, that’s 44% of the population. The monumental security breach exposed millions and millions of personal data bits to hackers.

I would laugh if it weren’t so horrifying.

Equifax learned of the breach, which apparently came through its website (which is not nearly enough information about the cause), in late July, two months after it started. The company promises that the hackers did not access “core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases,” but they got everything that matters: Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers.

Holy hell.

There is, it seems, no end to these kinds of breaches. Hackers see every company as a target, and they’ve been wildly successful with Yahoo, Target, Sony, the Democratic National Committee, Verizon, HBO, Ashley Madison, and many others. 

Each time, the company (or group) apologizes, promises to fix it, protect their customers and do better. 

“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Richard F. Smith in a statement.

Hahahahahahaha!

Disappointing? The heart of who you are? You’re a freaking identity protection company. Through your credit check business, you have access to much of our most precious financial information and then you ask us to pay more for identity protection. This event should destroy your business. It won’t, but it should.

You know why it won’t? Because these breaches haven’t shut down any of these businesses. Some face civil litigation and pay, some just endure a lot of public shaming. 

None of them face criminal prosecution. 

No one learns anything, certainly not the next company that will be hit. They just look on and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not them.

Some new rules

Nothing will change here until we have national standards for data security and strong penalties for not applying the necessary technologies, checks, and balances.

Currently in the U.S., only a handful of industries, have federal, mandatory cyber security regulations. These include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for healthcare and the 2002 Homeland Security Act, which was enacted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, for the federal government. Even in finance, which has other strict federal mandates for financial disclosures and internal controls, legislators struggle to implement sweeping cybersecurity rules.

Truth in financial reporting seems like a worthy goal, no less so than safety in data security. And yet there is virtually nothing to encourage general business to clean up its cybersecurity act. By comparison, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which brought sweeping financial management and corporate governance regulation to U.S. businesses in 2002, put in place hefty fines and prison terms for those who don’t follow it. Put simply, Sarbanes-Oxley mandates that company management must certify the accuracy of all financial statements and enact expensive internal controls. 

One reason for the lack of cybersecurity rules is that data security and best practices in business is an intricate web of legacy hardware and software, byzantine practices, and bottom line concerns. 

Companies running old operating systems have long been prime hack targets. Most of them continue running old software because 1) it costs money to upgrade and 2) the vertical industries they serve use old legacy software that doesn’t run on the newest platform or hardware.

It’s not just the software, though. Companies like Equifax, Yahoo, the Democratic National Committee, and others don’t follow best practices when it comes to cyber security. They don’t protect or back up their databases off site, they don’t train their employees to not open unknown emails, click on random links, or how to identify a social engineering attack. 

Cyber-security regulations with the same power as Sarbanes-Oxley and penalties would change that. It would stop companies from sitting back and hoping they can dodge the bullet much like young people avoid the doctor because they believe they can never get sick. 

In 2016, 28 states either had or were considering cyber security legislation, but most of it only considers state-controlled systems and services and doesn’t look at the businesses that manage consumer data.

If you think the idea of force-feeding cyber security to business is draconian, look at Microsoft Windows 10. This platform no longer asks you if it can upgrade, it only allows you to specify when. Why? So, home users can have the most up-to-date and secure systems. Microsoft doesn’t even leave cyber security in the hands of third-party companies any more (you can still buy it if you want). Instead, there’s Windows Defender. It’s free, always up-to-date and running 24/7 on Windows 10 PC.

Ideal legislation to regulate cybersecurity would create the foundation for rating agencies to keep track of companies’ cybersecurity prowess. So Equifax would get an Equifax. The quality of a company’s cyber security across a wide variety of metrics (up to date systems, encrypted data, company wide training) would result in a score, much like one’s credit score; 1 would be the worst and 5 would be the best. Simple.

If I were writing this legislation, I would also tie it to the winding down of the Social Security number as an identity tool. Numbers are flat, discoverable things and the fact that we use a combination of nine digits as the skeleton key for life stuff should be a grave concern to everyone.

We have options. Biometric security is growing by leaps and bounds. Facial recognition on the level I have with Windows Hello can’t be fooled with a picture or someone who looks almost just like me. Iris scanning is even more foolproof and now on smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8. We have heartbeat sensors that might eventually be used to recognize the unique rhythm of each heart. 

A new Cyber Security Act, with some real regulatory teeth (read penalties) could set a timeline for retiring Social Security numbers, giving businesses and people five years to change systems and upgrade to biometrics.

Leaving these things to chance and the whims of business, which care more about money than they do about you, is no longer sustainable. 

This must end.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/09/08/equifax-hack-cyber-security-regulation/

Why youll probably want the next Apple Watch

The next version of the Apple Watch could be a game changer.
Image: Getty Images

Apple is getting ready to launch a new version of the Apple Watch that doesn’t need to be paired with an iPhone in order to work, according to Bloomberg. The report, published earlier this month, claims the next version of the watch will include an LTE chip for internet connectivity and suggests the watch’s square casing may receive a radical new design.

If true, the next-generation Apple Watch’s features could make it the first truly must-have wearable product, finally offering people the right balance of connectivity, usefulness, and fashion credibility that they’ve been asking for.

The Watch wasn’t a breakout success initially, but over time, Apple has correctly adjusted to consumer sentiment and found a great niche for the product. The first iteration was marketed as a general smartwatch for everyone, but as excitement for the shiny new Apple product wore off, the company pivoted to emphasize health and fitness features, like a built-in GPS and water resistance. That shift led to stronger sales that appeared to put Apple atop the entire wearables market.

The third soon-to-be-released version of the Watch will likely continue this health and fitness focus that much was clear from the preview of watchOS 4 we saw at WWDC earlier this year. But it could also make the Watch even more useful for everyone in their everyday lives, making it a must-have for all of us in the iEcosystem.

Connectivity, everywhere

The most exciting rumor about the next-generation Apple Watch is, without question, standalone internet connectivity. Many market analysts believe that the addition of LTE connections will finally convince consumers that wearables are worth their time (and more importantly, money), giving them the ability to use their devices as more than a glorified extension of their smartphone. The feature could be the key for the market’s growth as it enters a “new phase,” in which sales are projected to double by 2021.

The new Apple Watch won’t be the first smartwatch to have standalone internet connectivity, however; the Samsung Gear 3 offered a mass-market 4G LTE-connected smartwatch and was launched last year.

But introducing LTE connectivity to the best-selling device on the market from the most visible company in the world will instantly bring the feature to a wider audience, letting Apple play off its image as an innovator even if Samsung was there first. This happens with the iPhone nearly every product cycle, and the gigantic base of Apple fans eat it up. There’s little reason to believe the Watch would be much different.

There are some concerns about how functional Apple’s standalone wearable could be in its first iteration. Screen size, battery life, and memory are already concerns for such a small device adding LTE chips and giving it even more processing power could make those problems even worse.

The Watch won’t ever be used for major tasks, though. It’s more likely to be used when production is secondary, like, say, when wearers’ hands are otherwise occupied. Runners and other exercisers will be relieved to ditch their phones and retain the ability to send texts, download apps, and stream music online. And a more general audience will be interested in boosting productivity, like when they first started using an iPhone.

LTE-connection will make the Watch all the more attractive to those of us who can’t spend a moment without being connected, which is one of the most important requirements of a gadget these days.

A fresh new look

The rumored new form factor for the Watch shouldn’t be taken lightly as a majorly attractive feature that could make it a must-have device. There’s even a rumor that Apple could introduce microLED screen technology with the new Watch, which could make it even brighter and better looking than the current OLED setup.

Smartwatches have previously fallen in the middle of a strange space between fashion and function, but the scales could be tipping toward looks as a potential determining factor for general consumers. Android Wear devices from major tech companies have largely struggled since the OS was updated earlier this year but fashion companies haven’t been deterred from using the platform, since their customers are worried about looks first, performance second.

If Apple, a famously design-centric company, begins to really treat its Watch like the fashion plate it has the potential to be, its general appeal could go through the roof as hypebeasts and fashionistas lust after the new form factor.

That type of sentiment doesn’t apply to most gadgets, where one generation replaces the last because it works better but in fashion, where aesthetics are the most important quality, consumers can justify buying a new model on looks alone. There’s more of an incentive to upgrade to the new redesigned Watch to go along with your Series 2 for Apple fans, too, giving them an opportunity collect them all and cycle between looks.

Some might be leery of Apple’s movement toward a fitness and fashion focused wearable (Mashable tech editor Pete Pachal chief among them), but the company will find a more receptive general audience by crafting a sexy, always-connected Watch.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/14/apple-watch-3-must-have/

Let this fitness tracker motivate you to get moving

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.

Theres nothing better than being in shape. It prolongs your life, it makes you feel better, and it can even boost your mood. Unfortunately, its really hard to get in shape, and even harder to maintain it.

Luckily, there are some great fitness trackers that can help you achieve your goals like the Moov Now Personal Coach & Workout Tracker. This award-winning tracker actively monitors your bodys motion to ensure that you get the most out of every workout. It even gives you personalized feedback to correct your form and help minimize your risk of injury.

But what really separates Moov Now from the competition is its coaching. Moov Now features a real-time audio coach that gives you positive feedback throughout your workout so youre always pumped to conquer that next hill or set a new personal record. Its the perfect training tool for high-intensity workouts like circuit training, running, cycling, swimming, and cardio boxing.

Moov Now also shows you how to work in proper intervals so you can recover safely, gain results faster, and gradually level up to more intensive workouts. Plus, it constantly changes your workouts so you stay motivated and dont plateau.

With a tracker like this, its much more likely that you’ll actually get your butt off the couch.Moov Now normally costs $79.95, but you can get it for just $49.95, a savings of 37 percent. Buy it here.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/29/a-fitness-tracker-thats-also-a-personal-trainer/

Here are some of the weirder and more creative ad blockers on the market

Image: Shutterstock / underverse

A host of niche ad blockers are helping web surfers trade annoying ads for cats, art, and inspiration.

The tools are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of blocking software birthed by a popular frustration with disruptive digital ads in recent years.

But where most of their ilk simply scrub pop-ups and promos from your screen, a handful of developers have tried to set their services apart by taking it a step further: They want to turn the lemons of online ads into lemonade.

These ad blockers replace aggressive web advertising with a more pleasant alternative, whether that be images of goofy cats, vintage billboards, fine art, inspirational memes take your pick.

Like many one-note browser extensions, most of them are novelty gags and open-source hobbyist projects. Their gimmicks may be fun at first, but at some point the clutter of cats on every page might get old.

A small segment of startups, however, are more serious about their missions. Companies like Intently a Pinterest-like ad replacer are actually hoping to create viable rivals to industry heavyweights like Eyeo’s AdBlockPlus and AdBlock (two confusingly named, yet separate companies).

There is a potentially enticing moneymaking opportunity hidden in this deceptively simple model. The secret to ad blockers is that, despite the contradictory name and intra-industry antagonism, they aren’t much different than the ad networks they block. Ad blocking startups also make their money by selling the screen space in front of you to advertisers.

For most of the popular ad blocking services, that means charging certain high-traffic platforms like Google and Microsoft for the privilege of being whitelisted a practice trade groups have likened to extortion.

But the prospect of slipping ads in among aspirational memes or social content could make for a more sustainable and less shady model provided there’s actually an appetite among web users for content in place of ads.

Judging by the number of projects that have already stumbled on this path, that demand is by no means guaranteed. But it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy morphing ads into anything under the sun.

Vintage social ads

Image: kindai

What would your Facebook feed look like in ’80s get-up?

French ad agency Kindai answered that question this week with a new tool that papers over sponsored posts with classic ads from the decade.

The browser extension will transport you back to a world of Atari’s Pong, Sony Walkmans, and Apple II’s. There’s a tribute to a partnership between Pizza Hut and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other retro cultural signifiers galore.

The program is also a reminder of how easy it remains to block Facebook ads nearly a year after the company’s supposed crackdown on the practice.

Image: screenshot

CatBlock

Image: screenshot

Developers at AdBlock originally intended for CatBlock to be an April Fool’s joke in 2012. But they apparently underestimated the force of feline fanaticism on the internet.

The service a temporary code tweak that rendered blocked ads as “Lolcat” memes or Flickr images got such an overwhelming reception that AdBlock decided to spin it into part of a monthly subscription package.

Two years later, however, AdBlock turned the project over to open-source developers who now maintain it as a free browser extension. Last year, it became the first ad blocker to run on Microsoft’s Edge browser.

Intently

Image: screenshot

Image: screenshot

Intently replaces aspiration-mongering and health-shaming in service of consumerism with… aspiration-mongering and health-shaming as an end unto itself.

To be clear, the latter is definitely preferable. The service first lets you customize your interests and life goals by selecting from a few preset choices. You’ll then start to see peppy positive mantras like “start by believing that things can change” and “7 days without fruits and vegetables makes one ‘weak'” where you’d otherwise see ads.

The company’s eventual goal is to become a sort of Pinterest-like platform that operates in the space vacated by blocked ads.

Image: screenshot

Addendum

Image: screenshot

Image: screenshot

Probably the most intriguing project on this list, Addendum lets you replace ads with one of several “essays,” or sets of similarly themed art, curated by the influential Kadist art organization.

The collections are all compiled from archives uncovered by Kadist’s various research projects, according to Addendum’s site, but you can also upload your own galleries and share them with friends.

It’s not the fastest or most reliable blocker at this point, and it’s currently only available on Firefox though Chrome and Safari versions are in the works.

The developers are also among the few to directly confront the ethical underpinnings of ad blocking.

“You downloaded the page, and you own it,” the developers write in their justification of the practice. “Its yours and you can do whatever you want to it. Just like if you get a free newspaper, you can read it, or cut it up, or burn it. Its your life and you have no legal obligation to look at every ad presented to you.”

Image: screenshot

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/08/ad-blockers-replacers/

This hackathon wants to help destigmatize the sex tech industry

In a pitch presentation that capped off hours of collaboration at New York’s first SexTech Hackathon, the subject turned to a decidedly unsexy scenario: Parents talking to their kids about sex.

“How can we foster a safe environment at home for children having conversations about sexual education with their parents?” asked one of the hackathon’s more than 40 participants during a pitch presentation for what would become the event’s winning project.

Better communication would emerge as a theme as hopeful entrepreneurs many of them new to sex tech considered how tech can be used to enrich human sexuality.

Participants get to know one another before breaking into teams.

Image: sextech.nyc

For six hours on Jun 10 at New York’s ThoughtWorks, participants with a range of backgrounds from coding to design to sex therapy worked in teams to imagine products that fall under the vast umbrella of sex tech. Though the term often covers forms of adult content VR pornography, for example the event’s website made clear the criteria for hackathon participation : “While we recognize sexuality is a diverse field, we will not be accepting hack teams for anything related to pornography or entertainment.”

Rather, Saturday’s event was meant to push ideation in the realm of sexual education and pleasure. Following a pitch and feedback session, a panel of sex tech entrepreneurs would select a winner.

Seven teams, formed just a few hours earlier, pitched their visions to the judges panel. “Spinucation” a connected game that aims to start conversations about sex between parents and children took home the top prize: one month to develop the project at Galvanize, a “learning community for technology.”

The winning team’s concept features an app-connected toy, modeled after Spin the Bottle, that determines who will answer a question prompt from the app. Questions would come from an AI built into the app that would use news items on sex and sexuality to generate content. Made for children between ages 5 and 18, the game would also allow parents to choose which topics they want to discuss with their children.

“This is a tech environment, obviously, and we are very critical about technology and how we often end up hiding behind avatars instead of having a more human one-to-one interaction,” said Elena Habre, a designer who worked on the concept. “So we were also thinking how can we leverage AI, but not to hide behind it, but [to] have it facilitate a conversation.”

The winning team answers questions from the judges panel.

Image: sextech.nyc

Other team presentations included concepts for VR that simulates sexual situations for educational purposes, an app or website that would help users understand if they perpetuate rape culture, a subscription box that helps couples in long-term relationships try new things in the bedroom and, the event’s runner-up, an app that facilitates conversations about sex between partners.

While the event’s goal was to encourage female-led innovation in this space, the hackathon open to all genders featured a near fifty-fifty split between men and women participants. The organizers acknowledged a need for a future hackathon organized entirely for people who identify as women.

But though the event was open a diverse set of genders, Bryony Cole hackathon mentor and host of the Future of Sex podcast says the goal was to create a safe environment where women can feel comfortable exploring what might be an unfamiliar industry.

The day started off with a talk from women sex tech entrepreneurs including Mal Harrison, director of the Center for Erotic Intelligence and Kris Jandler, co-founder and CMO of Emojibator. The event also included an ice breaker and discussion session where participants could get to know one another.

Encouraging women-led innovation in sex tech is critical at a time when it’s such a challenge for female entrepreneurs to secure funding in a still-stigmatized industry.

Cole belongs to Women of Sex Tech, a New York-city based group of more than 70 entrepreneurs dedicated to increasing the number and diversity of women working in sex tech. Per its Facebook page: “We want to increase access to funding for female-founded startups in sex tech and decrease the stigma of female sexuality.”

“The interesting thing about that community is they would traditionally be considered competitors,” Cole said. “So we have a group of women that are making sex toys for pleasure, there are people who are doing sex educational apps, and we think these are competitors, but … because the industry is so small and there’s so much stigma, it forced people to band together and go, hey, we need to break through these walls first before we even start to tackle things like how do I sell my vibrator over yours.”

And while these women work to create better opportunities for themselves and their peers, the aim is also to encourage women-led tech industry’s overlooked areas: education, pleasure and, as we saw Saturday, improved communication.

“If you were to look right out to the frontiers of what’s happening in sex tech that’s in VR or teledildonics or AR,” said Cole. “[At this hackathon], we want to solve a really simple problem: We want to get more education about sexual health and awareness to children, or we want to improve the intimacy between couples … That’s nothing crazy and out there that’s just simply the cultural moment we’re at right now.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/11/new-york-sex-tech-hackathon/