The unmasking of a National Security Agency intelligence program, which allegedly collects and analyses data from some of the worlds biggest companies has come as a shock to some and no surprise to others.
Leaked slides from a former CIA employee appear to show reasoning for their access to several high profile companies servers and leave the reader in no doubt to the ease of access they allegedly have.
The companies implicated in the leak include Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Apple, Dropbox PalTalk and AOL.
Naturally, the companies have released statements regarding the issue. After all, to not do so could a) imply truth in the claims and/or b) be corporate suicide.
Lets take a look at what they’ve said.
Facebooks Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg had this to say:
“We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”
“Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a backdoor for the government to access private user data.”
“We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
“We do not have any knowledge of the Prism program. We do not disclose user information to government agencies without a court order, subpoena or formal legal process, nor do we provide any government agency with access to our servers.”
“We have not heard of PRISM. Paltalk exercises extreme care to protect and secure users’ data, only responding to court orders as required to by law. Paltalk does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers.”
Included in the leak were also mentions of YouTube and Skype.
Who’s Telling The Truth?
For sure? Well we can’t tell. However, intelligent speculation would dictate that there is no smoke without fire.
The problem for the general public is that, it isn’t in any of the parties interests to be fully frank about the situation.
On the side of the US government and intelligence agencies including GCHQ admitting to this kind of indiscriminate mass collection and studying of data, no matter how noble or well meant the intentions are, would be damaging to public confidence in the US administration.
Equally, in the UK, rising public concern and tension is building up despite there only being claims that the UK had access to the US PRISM intelligence program, not that the UK government or intelligence services were directly collecting this themselves.
In addition, it would be highly damaging to any potential (or possibly continuing) support by companies of the PRISM program if there was a confirmation on behalf of the government or the security services.
Equally, for the companies – admitting this kind of definitely questionable, potentially (legally) murky situation would likely be corporate suicide. The strong denials from all of the companies allegedly involved with the PRISM program come as no surprise.
You could expect mass panic and potentially mass boycotting of services provided by a company which was allowing unrestricted and unmonitored access to all their servers data.
If a mass panic develops after such an admission, investors could lose confidence in the companies and pull all their funding and advertisers may also flee if the user base of servers dwindles and to avoid negative press by association.
Despite all of the companies shown in the leaked slides being multi billion pound companies, the scale of damage that could be done if there are truth in these allegations could be far reaching, long lasting and ultimately inflicting a indeterminate amount of damage.
JetPack, a feature packed and ever expanding and updating set of features for the worlds most popular blogging platform (indeed, this blog is powered by it as well!), has now become a mainstay of any self respecting WordPress bloggers blog.
Even if you use none of the extra fancy features (which can be quite useful) its worth it alone just for the stats. For those who have been blogging for quite a while now, you’ll remember the days that WordPress.com stats was a feature in itself, which was later merged into JetPack on its release.
Many people use the stats to track activity on their website, popular topics, posts, pages, times of day etc etc. You name it, there’s probably a metric for it in the JetPack stats somewhere (and if there’s not, its pretty much assured to be in Google Analytics – which of course you’re all using as well aren’t you? 😉 ).
However, one thing that has particularly plagued JetPack since its inception has been the periodically and sometimes, apparently random, dumping of previous stats. Many users log in, check there stats and to their horror they’re gone. But what’s causing this?
What’s Causing Stats To Do A Runner?
Well there’s only one group of people that can definitively answer this, and thats the WordPress Devs. However, due to nature of the beast that is WordPress and the many different scenarios a user can be in when there stats go bye-bye, its impossible for even them to determine one definite cause (as is to be expected).
However, with a lot of confidence I can safely say:
It’s not just one problem!
Indeed, it most definitely is caused by multiple different situations – probably 10s or even 100s. However, the result of all these different situations is the same – the apparent removal of historical stats, or reset.
Some Likely Culprits…
First culprit – JetPack updates. Probably an obvious one for most of you but its possible on some occasions updating your JetPack has conspired with other events to rid you of your past statistical information. However, to make it clear, updating JetPack doesn’t, as a matter of course, delete your stats – indeed many updates are performed and no stats are lost.
There are several possible reasons for this apparent indeterminacy of the problem. Maybe you’ve reconnected to a different WordPress.com account that you have (i.e. the wrong one!). Maybe you’ve logged on to your WordPress account and accidently (intentionally) deleted your previous stats? Or maybe the server holding that data had a hiccup and its temporarily lost. There are literally hundreds of reasons.
Similar in nature to the JetPack updates above – maybe slightly more likely than the above reason but most of what’s said above applies to WordPress Updates as well.
As we say, many updates go without a hitch and updating WordPress, as a matter of course, shouldn’t rid you of your stats.
It’s good to note here that updating your WordPress (and indeed JetPack and any plugins) is essential to maintaining the security of your blog. The small risk of losing your stats shouldn’t dissuade you at all from providing updates – security is paramount on the importance scale.
Compromised Accounts (Hacking)
Maybe your WordPress.com account was hacked? Maybe your blog was hacked? Either way, both mechanisms could potentially allow an attacker to delete, reset or remove your stats.
Temporary Server Faults / Failure / Maintenance / Downtime / Communication Errors
Maybe WordPress are upgrading the server that your stats are held on? Maybe its being maintenaned? Maybe there’s a fault? Maybe its failed? All of these causes should thankfully be temporary and resolve without your intervention.
Maybe the above has happened / is happening to your own server? If you’re on a managed hosting solution then check with your host and see if they can offer assistance (and maybe an explanation).
Maybe there’s some for of communication problem between the server your site is hosted on and the WordPress.com server that your stats are on? This isn’t as uncommon as you may think.
Maybe you’ve accidently installed some crap (yes, that is a technical term) onto your server. Or maybe a hacker has. Or maybe one of your users has accidently or otherwise exploited a loophole in your website somewhere. This is probably on the lower end of the likeliness spectrum for this problem.
A quick Google shows that losing JetPack (WordPress.com) stats isn’t that uncommon. Indeed there are many many results with an equal number of explanations.
The key point to remember is that we should treat JetPack (WordPress) stats like an added bonus – one of many weapons in our statistical arsenal. After all, we shouldn’t be sticking all our eggs in one basket!
If you haven’t done already its much advised that you install Google Analytics on your website as a backup for JetPack stats. Not only does it serve as a backup but it should also be used in addition to JetPack stats as it provides a wealth of extra information which is not present in WordPress stats.
Also – as an added bonus – you can use Google Analytics across your whole website. It’s not just restricted to your blog.
Social media is something that only the most recent generation have had to grow up with. Debuting on the Internet scene in the early noughties, social networking sites have flourished and presented a land of opportunities. However, it has equally presented an extremely dangerous system into each and everybody’s homes.
While many misguidedly feel that letting their children have a Facebook account (or similar social networking account) is just harmless fun, many parents only realise the profound negative impact it can have on their childrens when it is tragically, far too late.
As a parent, you’ve probably heard a similar warning time and time again – and I’d hazard to guess that approximately 80%, if not more, have dismissed as scaremongering or something that they don’t need to consider for their family.
The following point cannot be made forcefully enough, so if there is one thing that you take heed of today, ensure it is this:
Social Networking Can Kill Or Seriously Harm Your Child.
Now, before you brush this off as over zealous, anti social network, hyperbole lets take a look at the brutal facts of the matter.
Not only does social networking on the Internet have the potential to kill or seriously harm your child there are many documented and validated cases of where this has already happened.
Shocked to find this out? Most of you probably will be – but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that social networking is more dangerous to your child than the risk of drugs, alcohol or smoking.
Again, there are two fundamental reasons why social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter are a more apparent danger to your children than the misuse of substances:
Parents widely accept their childs usage of social networks.
Yes, while the vast majority of families would hit the roof and do all they can to prevent the use (or misuse) or drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, most parents (unwittingly) allow a major cause of death and (physical and/or mental) injury into their homes with open arms.
Parents are naive to the imminent danger social networks put their child in
Whether parents know it or not, from the second their child logs into a social network until the second their child logs out of a social network, they are playing Russian Roulette with their safety.
I can see some digital eyes rolling at this moment in time, so lets take a look at some cases.
How far back do we have to look to find social networking to have been a part of a teenagers death? Not far at all. 3 days to be precise.
Nichole Cable (15) – May 2013
Look familiar? Why shouldn’t it. Nichole Cable is a typical teenager with the rest of her life ahead of her.
That was until May 2013, when last month an older male (known to Nichole, an ex boyfriend) killed her after what was thought to be a failed kidnapping attempt by the 20 year old ex come stalker.
The MO of the perpetrator is one that is becoming all too familiar. Wanting to reconcile with Nichole, and with delusional thinking in tow, he believe that kidnapping his ex would rekindle their love affair.
It should be noted that the parents of Nichole forbade the relationship to continue prior to the murder after he was involved with a high speed police pursuit (a real winner, evidently).
The parents made the right choice and took steps to protect their child. Or so they thought.
Dube, the ex friend come stalker, took to Facebook and set up a fake profile to lure Nichole out to meet him at the end of her street – unbeknownst the extreme danger that her life was going to be put in.
Nichole was cautious, cautious enough to initially turn down requests to meet “Bryan Butterfield” (please note, many teenagers will not be this cautious). However, in the end she agreed, and unfortunately, this was one of the last decisions she made.
Protecting your child from murders is reason enough to ban them from Facebook. But even if the ultimate price is paid due to their social networking usage, many other terrible tragedies can occur.
Many in society are currently campaigning for the “naming and shaming” of pedophiles, or child sex offenders. Forget this crusade (at least for the moment), there is a far more imminent and devastating threat on your doorstep.
Facebook users are usually young in general, the biggest group undoubtedly being the (under) 18 to 25 group.
Unfettered, discreet access to children via social networks means that it is all too often inhabited by many people we wouldn’t like our children to know of, let alone interact with.
Sometimes, it can be us as parents that unwittingly set of a chain reaction of events.
April Jones (5) – September 2012
April Jones was a five year old from Wales.
The case has been well publicised in the UK and earlier this week Mark Bridger was found guilty of her murder.
During the trial it was exposed the Bridgers laptop was not only full of child pornography, featuring under age girls but that he had taken a unhealthy interest in April and her sister, downloading their pictures from Facebook, nine days before her tragic death.
Now, the murder of this innocent young girl may have taken place anyway – no one can say for sure – but the access to pictures of your children through social networking sites can mean that they insert your children into their sick fantasies and develop and unhealthy, and potential deadly, interest in your child.
I don’t think there is one parent that would, in the real world, hand over pictures of their primary school children to a pedophile. Yet, by placing pictures of your children and distributing them on a worldwide network you are potentially doing this not just once, but millions of times.
It is well known, by people in the IT and legal professions, that pedophiles and child sex offenders use the Internet to gather, distribute, share and trade pictures of children that they find online – including, with an alarmingly increasing rate, pictures found on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Murder and pedophilia are of course enough to make most parents want to deactivate their childrens Facebook immidately, possibly to even consider removing all instances of computing technology from their house completely.
Not only does social media provide a danger from outsiders, but it also, disproportionately among young people, can be used to make your child hurt themselves.
Carolina Picchio (14) – May 2013
Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far back to find the latest social networking related child suicide either. The same threedays in fact that we had to look back for a social networking related child murder.
Again, another day, another country, another typical teenager.
Along with the use of mobile phones, social networking websites (Facebook, in this case) was used to undertake a campaign of cyberbullying against a teenage girl in Italy.
After splitting up with her boyfriend, his friends thought it would be good to use an upsetting video shot at a recent party, where Carolina was looking a bit worse for wear, to bully her. This video was then widely circulated by said ex boyfriend and friends.
Along with a campaign of upsetting, abusive and disturbing messages, this all-to-familiar action of this teens social group ended up leading to hear leaping out of her families fourth storey apartment window to her death.
On the day of her death she received at least 2,600 vulgar messages via social media.
The sheer power of the danger of social networking is not just limited to children as well – it is catching more and more adults out.
She moved states to get away from her ex, but unfortunately, although this may have been enough in the 90’s to escape from an ex who won’t take no for an answer, sadly today it is not.
We can move our homes to move ourselves out of harms way, but in the Internet age this can be a faux sense of security that can lead to our downfall.
While we may move homes, we don’t usually at the same time move Facebook profiles. In fact, even if we did delete and recreate a new profile, it’s probably not that hard to track down the new profile using a small amount of time and a cursory Facebook search – anyone who knows any piece of personal information about you can use it to track you down on the information superhighway.
Her ex-husband wouldn’t have had any where near as much chance of tracking her down in the pre-Internet days. But as social networks continue to integrate more easily and readily into our daily lives than ever before, their use as a tool to stalk and track someone down have never been more real.
Fearing that her ex-husband was indeed actively using Facebook to track her movements she deleted her page completely three days before her death.
Unfortunately, by this time the damage was already done. Enough information was already revealed to an evidently violent ex.
To sum up….
I imagine most of you reading this article will have been extremely skeptical about the headline of this article. Hopefully now, I have managed to make it clear how social networking can, has been and will continue to be a major harmer of our children – it is rapidly becoming the primary one.
Even if your family is lucky enough that your child doesn’t become a victim of social media, they may indeed become the instigator of a criminal offence (unwittingly) through their use of social media.
In the case of Carolina Picchio the Italian legal system is not only considering taking action against the social network in question – but against the ‘teens’ involved in the cyber bullying – looking into charges of ‘Instigating sucide’ and ‘distributing pedopornography’ – both extremely serious crimes (as if you need me to tell you).
The only way to protect your child from the imminent danger that they are in on social networks is to forbid them to use them until they are at least in adulthood – and probably by which time they will be better equipped to deal with the dangers lurking round every corner.
Personally, I’d recommend the age of 21. Although parents may struggle to carry on the influence of their rules beyond the teenage years.
Please, please, please take one message from this article, if nothing else:
Many of you will be familiar with the auto complete functionality offered by the Google search engine, which is, the most popular search engine in the world. For those that are not familiar, auto complete analyses what you are typing into the search text box on Google and suggests ways to complete the phrase, or suggest another similar sought after phrase based on the experiences and searches of other users.
In the past Google search terms have been manipulated by users to further their own means, causes or beliefs.
For example, back when George W Bush was President of the United States of America, the term ‘miserable failure‘ was Google-bombed to make the top result a link to the presidents biography on the White House website.
Although, thanks to fixes in the way the search engine operates, Google-bombing is now pretty much a thing consigned to the history of the World Wide Web, a new form of behaviour is evident in Google’s modern day version.
That is what I like to call ‘association by popularity’. Basically, say there is a person, Person and there are *suspected* of a criminal offence, lets say, fraud. Even though this may not be true, many people will likely go on the Internet and search for ‘Person A fraud’, ‘Person A scam’ or ‘Person A criminal’. Now, as more and more people search on these terms, it gets to a stage where these search terms have been used by a number of different people that Google sees them as being popular and so, consequently, when you come to Google to search ‘Person A’, as you are typing, the ever helpful search engine will suggest the words ‘fraud’, ‘scam’ and ‘criminal’ should be appended to the end.
The effect of this is that people who may have been searching for ‘Person A CV’ or ‘Person A National Achievement Award’ now search for the more derogatory search term to find out why its being displayed, if there’s any truth in it etc.
This type of behaviour by Google is made abundantly clear when celebrities and scandal come together. Within minutes of it breaking, the number of searches links subject A with action B.
Unfortunately, this is both Google working in a fantastic, real time way as well as popularising, sometimes completely unfounded, terms and stories.
But should Google be asked to stop the search engine acting in this way? After all, its only suggesting what everyone else is typing? It’s only the same as a friend talking to a friend about a certain story who then goes on to tell there family and friends.
However, when it appears in Google, it seems more offensive in some quarters – as if Google Autocomplete is an oracle of facts rather than a mere suggestion of what you may be searching for based on popular terms.
Freedom of speech is protected in law in all developed countries, so surely auto complete is protected by this?
The thing that plaintiffs filing these actions against the non-sentient auto complete system seem to be forgetting that auto complete isn’t spouting the views that Google would like to brain wash us with (albeit, this is a popular tale cited by some conspiracy theorists) but simply relaying what others are saying, or in this case searching for.
While it can be distressing, upsettings and disappointing to be linked with a phrase with which you are unfairly linked – or maybe disagree with – is it right that Google censors these search queries from showing up in autocomplete? Again, it comes back to the fact that Google is only saying what other people are saying. It has no agenda, it has no motives. It is purely a computer processing, aggregating and presenting a set of general data.
The one exception that I could definitely see as falling out of the circle of reasonableness is if an individual or organisation are manipulating the Google auto complete search terms (which, from what we know, would be rather time consuming and resource intensive as well as of questionable real terms reward) – in such a way as the search results could once be skewed by Google-bombing.
The unnamed businessman from Germany brought the case after being linked with ‘scientology’ and ‘fraud’ courtesy of Google auto complete. Now, I’m assuming that this man, based on this reaction, is not linked with either of these things – and if that is true, then I can understand how he feels about being linked with things he doesn’t want to be associated with. But after all, its only based on what people are searching for.
The court in Germany said: “A person’s privacy would be violated if the associations conjured up by auto-complete were untrue”. This will likely be contentious in the eyes of many in so much as that it isn’t ‘associations conjured up by auto-complete’ but, more accurately, ‘associations conjured up by Google users’.
Are we protecting innocent people from malicious lies or are we impinging on the peoples right to free speech? The most important thing to remember is the Google’s auto complete function is powered by its users, not by the company.
Over the past week, I’ve had a couple of people come to me wanting advice regarding search engine optimisation. They’ve done some reading up on the topic, which is normally a good idea – dependant on the source material of course.
Search Engine Optimisation is a controversial area. Yet it is an area that needs at least some time and focus for self employed people or businesses. However, although there are many dedicated, qualified people working in the area of SEO, there are also unscrupulous people who have gone into the area seeing it as a ‘get rich quick’ or ‘easy way to make money’.
What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimisation, is as the name implies, a way to optimise your website for search engines. This should be done in the background of a website – in other words it should not impact on your user. The visual parts of a website should have WUO rather than SEO – that is Website User Optimisation.
However, I will quickly clarify that you should not be presenting something totally different to a search engine which doesn’t relate to the actual page a user sees. Many people with a website know basic SEO techniques – such as using relevant keywords a number of times on each page, setting meta tags, and following principles of good web design. Presenting a materially different version of a website to a search engine will likely get your removed from the major search providers – as an example, this type of action would be a clear breach of the terms and conditions for listing in Google. And if your not listed in Google, you’ve hit major, major problems. In fact, not being listed by any of the major search engines is likely to impact your website, business, visitors and customers.
SEO, for the most part, should be invisible to the user. And good SEO will be. Some SEO rules, such as the general rules given above, generally stay there or thereabouts the same. However, another form of SEO is to exploit certain perceived ‘weaknesses’ in a search engines algorithm such as Google’s PageRank – search engines do monitor these and close them up but as one hole is closed another one usually opens.
There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings (some propagated by so called ‘Search Engine Optimisation companies’ or ‘SEO consultants’). I must stress that there are many SEO consultants and companies that are legitimate – but a few too many are alas, not. We’ll try to clear up some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings here.
SEO is a service, not a product.
Search Engine Optimisation is not a ‘thing’, it is an ongoing process. The rules and guidelines regarding search engine optimisation are changing all the time – and because of this, to stay fully ahead in the game, your website needs constant changes to its SEO strategy and implementation to gain the full benefit.
While it is true that you can buy ‘one off’ SEO packages from companies, this does not mean that your website does not need search engine optimisation again. Your website will likely benefit from proper SEO done once, but over time the benefits will diminish.
This is in the same way that you can get your car on a service plan (continuous) or as a ‘one off’ package (i.e. one service). Now the one off service is cheaper than a continuous service plan. But the fact you have your car serviced once and it runs in top condition then, doesn’t mean that in three years time it’ll be running in top condition – for this a regular service plan would be required. The same is true for your websites search engine optimisation.
While it’s true, as mentioned above, that one off SEO does help your website (especially if you’ve not done any SEO on your website before), if you’re serious about SEO and maintaining a benefit from it, you need to look at having it done on a regular basis. Regular can be quite loosely defined here depending on the results you want and the money you want to invest in it – a self employed contractor is likely to want to put in less resources into SEO than a multi billion pound corporation.
Whether regular be once a day, or once a year is up to you – but to gain the maximum medium to long term sustained benefit you need a plan, not just a one off.
Now this is not to say that you have to commit to a SEO plan with a company. You can get a one off package from a company or companies on a regular basis. However, you choose to work it is up to you.
Just remember – SEO is a service, not a product.
SEO does not have a ‘price’
One of the most searched for and asked questions regarding search engine optimisation is ‘how much does it cost?’.
While many websites will try to define a ‘cost’ for you, the reality is it ‘costs’ anywhere between £50 and £50,000.
A similar question for me to ask is ‘how much does a house cost in the UK?’. The answer to both of these questions, in reality, is how long is a piece of string?
While a house can have 1 bedroom or 20 bedrooms, in the world of SEO you could be getting a few tags placed in your website or having a thousand page website fully optimised to all the lastest standards and guidelines taking into account each major search engines algorithms.
Equally, you don’t just want a price quoted to you by a company without further clarification. If I sent you a quote of £300 for a one off SEO package you might think this is quite competitive. And the truth is, it might just well be – it all depends on what I’m actually going to do for that money.
This is in the same way that a £40,000 quote for a car might be competitive. It all just depends whether it’s a Kia Picanto or an Audi R8 I’m quoting you for.
£300 would be competitive for a full 250 page site overhaul but not for adding a few meta tags to 10 pages.
Find out the cost and exactly what will be done for this cost. If your non-technical then consult someone in a technical field, a computing professional or other suitably qualified person to see what they think about the quote.
SEO isn’t about ‘getting to number 1’ (at all costs)
This might seem a strange one, but bear with me.
If you’re a cleaning company there’s no point getting to number 1 for dog grooming. Yes, you’ll get a lot more traffic – a lot more pointless traffic that is. The load on your website will go up, comments from bemused searchers will increase and the cost of your website hosting will increase. Everything will increase apart from valid hits from visitors and customers.
You want to rank highly, but you want to rank highly for things that are relevant to your website.
Relevancy is the key here – not getting to the top at all costs. Which brings me nicely onto the next point….
There are only two people in the world that can genuinely guarantee top spot on Google
That’s right, despite thousands of websites, companies and individuals guaranteeing you the coveted top spot on Google, there’s only two people in the world that can guarantee this.
I know what you’re thinking, but despite all the excellent advice I’m giving you in this article, one of those people isn’t me ;).
These people are Larry Page and Sergey Brin. And unfortunately for us, they aren’t going to do that for you. I mean, offering them a bribe is hardly going to work 😉 (read, they are two of the richest men in the world).
Anyone offering ‘guaranteed’ top spot in Google are simply not being fully truthful. Don’t be surprised to see a ‘*’ floating in a next to invisible size 2 font lurking near by.
Google, and other search engines, algorithms change on a regular basis. This affects your websites ranking, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.
The only thing that could be realistically guaranteed is that your site will be optimised to current standards and knowledge, which should result in an increase in search engine performance – that is it. And this is assuming the caveat that it is done by a suitably qualified professional that knows what they are doing.
SEO is an important part of the design of any website. SEO is a service not a product, and it is a service which needs to be regularly maintained. There are no guarantees, no magic formula, not ‘get rich quick’ equivalent in SEO land. Hard work and investment of resources in SEO undoubtedly leads to good results, but ensure that you fully understand what SEO is and what you are getting for your money before embarking on contracting a company or individual to perform search engine optimisation on your website.