The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Oct. 17 2014 12:06 PM

"Safety Check" Is a Great Example of How Facebook Can Make Itself Useful

We’ve known for a long time that Facebook is no longer cool. In a recent survey of teenagers, fewer than half said they use Facebook.

So far that loss of cachet hasn’t seemed to affect the company’s overall growth. As I’ve argued many times over the years, Facebook’s long-term success doesn’t hinge on its trendiness among teens. It hinges on whether the social network can graduate from a procrastination tool to a utility.

What can a post-cool Facebook do to make itself indispensible, besides serving as a more colorful, 21st-century version of the White Pages? A new feature called Safety Check is a promising sign that it’s working to figure that out.

When a major disaster hits, like an earthquake or a flood, Facebook’s Safety Check feature will push a notification to the smartphones of users in the affected area.  It will prompt them to click a button that says either “I’m safe” or “I’m not in the area.” That update will go on their Facebook news feeds, and will also be collected in a database that their friends and family can search in order to check on them.

Facebook says the idea grew out of a “disaster message board” project started by its engineers in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  Whenever such disasters happen, the company said in a press release, “we see people, relief organizations, and first responders turn to Facebook in the aftermath” to find out who’s affected and who’s OK.

This is a very smart way to capitalize on what may be Facebook’s greatest asset: the sheer size of its user base. Facebook’s near-ubiquity among Internet users in many regions of the world puts it in a unique position to compile a comprehensive database of status updates. It may not cover absolutely everyone, but it would make a great first stop for anyone hoping to confirm at a glance that their loved ones are alive and well.

Safety Check might irk Facebook holdouts and others who dislike feeling pressured to log into the social network in order to allay their friends’ worries. For what it’s worth, though, I can’t imagine it will be so widely used that your loved ones will panic if they don’t see your name on there in the event of a disaster. Rather, the people who find it convenient will use it, and those who don’t will find other ways to let people know they’re not dead.

A bigger potential hitch is that major disasters often knock out Internet and cell service. Still, it helps that Facebook’s Safety Check lets people mark their friends as safe.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I and many others were worried about one friend who we knew was living in a building that had been flooded. We assumed she was all right, but no one could confirm it because we couldn’t reach her. My wife and I ended up making a two-hour trek through the flood zone to track her down in person. Fortunately, she was fine, and we quickly put the word out on Facebook that she was in good health and spirits. Those who saw the update were grateful and relieved, but concerned queries continued to trickle in. Safety Check would have made it much easier to put all of her friends and family at ease.

Believe it or not, Facebook is also working on an answer to the Internet-connectivity problem. It's one of several companies, along with Google (see video below), that are developing drones and other flying objects that can beam down Wi-Fi from overhead.

Previously in Slate:

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Oct. 17 2014 11:11 AM

The Pentagon’s Climate Change Plan Is Great. But Will It Be Easy to Ignore?

When the Pentagon released a new “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” on Monday, the backlash was quick and somewhat predictable. “Americans who might die at the hands of the Islamic State,” a Wall Street Journal editorial lamented, “won’t care that [Secretary of Defense Chuck] Hagel is mobilizing against melting glaciers.”

Aside from the snide hyperbole, the truth is, some of the critics have a point. The military should not be a utility tool, hauled out for every situation that needs fixing. That blunts the tool itself, not to mention that the military is not the best tool for every situation.

That’s exactly why this new report is so good: It does not, in fact, call for a cryospheric war. (You can see a report on the State of the Earth’s Cryosphere, or snow and ice, here.) Instead, it spells out a legitimate military role in dealing with global climate change.

Oct. 16 2014 7:17 PM

This Week’s Cyclone-Turned-Blizzard May Be a Sign of Nepal’s Climate Future

Earlier this week, a horrifying avalanche buried several groups of trekkers and their guides in the mountains of western Nepal. Latest reports say more than 20 have died. Many are still missing, though one rescue team has brought in 77 survivors so far.

This is peak trekking season along the Annapurna circuit, since October normally features clear skies and mild weather as the summer monsoon season wanes. Instead, thanks to Cyclone Hudhud—one of the strongest storms ever measured in the Bay of Bengal—this week’s weather was a nightmare.

Cyclone Hudhud is an example of what researchers think may be an increasingly common occurrence as the Indian Ocean warms—stronger late-season cyclones. Some of those, like Hudhud, will end up pushing massive quantities of tropical moisture toward the Himalayas, which, when forced upward into the colder higher elevations, will fall as heavy snow.

FT-141016-Hudhud nepal
Cyclone Hudhud—a fierce tropical system—brought heavy snows to Nepal this week.


Nepal’s tourism industry has grown rapidly in recent years—according to a government report, it’s more than doubled in the last decade. This week’s disaster, combined with another on the slopes of Mount Everest in April—the deadliest day ever on the world’s highest peak—puts a question on the future of mountaineering tourism in a country reliant upon it for a significant portion of its economy. Nepalese guides ended the 2014 Everest climbing season early, out of respect to those who died.

A joint report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, based in Kathmandu, and Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology said that Nepal’s glaciers have retreated by 24 percent over the last three decades due to warmer temperatures. As they retreat, they’re becoming more unstable and dangerous for those in the region.  

"The frequency of avalanches like the one that struck at the Everest base camp last month may increase due to global warming," Samjwal Bajracharya, the lead author of the report, told Reuters earlier this year.

The tragedy brings to mind a more extreme version of Superstorm Sandy, which dumped more than two feet of snow in the mountains of West Virginia from its origins in the warm Caribbean in October 2012—an extremely rare occurrence.

Oct. 16 2014 6:53 PM

South Korea's Citizen ID System Is So Insecure It Will Probably Have to Be Redone

There have been so many huge data breaches in the United States that it’s starting to feel like nothing is secure. But in South Korea the situation is so bad it’s absurd. About 80 percent of the country’s 50 million citizens have had their government-issued ID number stolen, and 40 percent—including the country's president—have had financial data compromised as a result of breaches at three credit card companies.

According to the Associated Press, the hacks started in 2004 and have steadily continued ever since. The problem is that the numbers are really easy to guess because they have been assigned using a pattern of birthdays and gender identification since the 1960s. And BBC News reports that citizens can’t change their government ID numbers even once they have been compromised.

It seems that the South Korean government will have to issue new numbers to everyone over 17, which could take 10 years and cost billions of dollars. Geum Chang-ho, a researcher at the government Korea Research Institute for Local Administration, told the AP, “Even if their numbers are leaked, people are unable to change them, so hackers are constantly trying to obtain these numbers and are managing it easily.”

The situation is particularly embarrassing because South Korea is known for investing heavily in technology infrastructure and being extremely tech-savvy (though really, what this says is that cybersecurity is woefully under-addressed pretty much everywhere). Technology researcher Kilnam Chon noted, “The problems [in South Korea] have grown to a point where finding a way to completely solve them looks unlikely.”

Time for a massive overhaul, and maybe a citizen ID program that wasn’t created in the 1960s by a dictatorship that was, unsurprisingly, not particularly concerned about privacy.

Oct. 16 2014 4:02 PM

The California Drought Isn’t Going Anywhere

It’s the early days of California’s rainy season. Problem is, rain isn’t in the forecast.

For a state racked by drought, there couldn’t be much worse news.

“California's record-setting drought will likely persist or intensify in large parts of the state,” NOAA said Thursday in an online statement.

In their annual winter outlook and accompanying press conference Thursday, NOAA officials painted a grim picture. Odds are, rainfall and snowpack will again be below average this year, worsening the state’s position and forcing more extraordinary measures to protect the state’s wildlife, agricultural industry, and growing coastal cities. As an example of the kinds of actions that may become more common, the state is making plans to install nearly $1 million worth of water chillers to insulate salmon from warming water in dwindling streams.

According to NOAA records, California has just completed the warmest and driest three-year period on record. Because of this, Kevin Werner, NOAA’s western regional climate services director, said the state “is now exceptionally vulnerable.”

Due to the drought, Werner explained, “groundwater has been significantly, and in many cases, severely depleted.” He said that fact was “unlikely to change even if we get a normal rainfall year.” As a response to the worsening drought, California legislators recently enacted the first ever regulations on the pumping of groundwater, which is used as a primary source of irrigation by farmers in the state’s vast Central Valley.

Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, agreed. “Given the magnitude of the drought that’s there, even in a best case, there’s still going to be drought in large parts of California when the winter’s over.”

Any hope Californians had that the coming El Niño would substantially reverse the drought now seems in vain. In a best-case scenario, the southern and northwestern parts of the state might see some drought relief from El Niño-fueled bouts of coastal rain showers, but it’s the snowpack in the mountains that really matters. With a forecast of another warm winter, the average snow line will likely continue to climb, a trend linked to long-term global warming. California’s intricate system of canals and aqueducts channel snowmelt to agriculture and urban areas in the spring and summer. The less snow, the less water the rest of the state receives.

The really bad news is that NOAA’s official forecast for this winter may be optimistic.

When you dig down into the numbers, the forecast for this year’s rainy season looks even worse. For December through February, typically the wettest months of the year in California, this week’s update of NOAA’s National Multi-Model Ensemble seasonal forecasting system is particularly dire. Seven of the eight seasonal climate models now show several months of below normal precipitation ahead for California.

It looks like another dry “rainy” season for California.

Image: Forecast precipitation compared to normal for December through February from the NOAA National Multi-Model Ensemble

But thirsty Californians should look on the bright side: At least you’re not in Brazil. A severe drought and lingering water shortage threaten to shutter São Paulo—South America’s largest metro area—within a month if the remaining bit of water is not withdrawn from a reservoir system that’s already been 96 percent depleted. Brazilian scientists have linked the current drought to a mix of Amazon deforestation and global warming.

Oct. 16 2014 3:29 PM

The iPad Enters Middle Age

In what has become a fall ritual, Apple on Thursday announced a pair of new iPads: the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3.

In what is also starting to become a fall ritual, the company’s new tablets look a lot like the old ones.

The headline is that the Air 2 will be even slimmer than its predecessor. When Apple announced the first iPad Air last year, it showed it hiding behind a pencil. This time it showed the Air 2 hiding behind … an 18 percent thinner pencil. At just 6.1 millimeters, it’s now half the thickness of the original iPad. “Can you even see it?” Apple CEO Tim Cook joked, a little halfheartedly.

The Air 2’s weight, however, will be about the same: 0.96 pounds, versus exactly 1 pound for its predecessor.*

The company’s new flagship tablet will come with significantly better graphics processing and an A8X chip that Apple says is 40 percent faster than its predecessor. A laminated screen will reduce glare, and the 8-megapixel iSight camera will shoot video at 1080p.

iPad Air 2 features
The new iPad Air is 18 percent thinner than the last one.

Screenshot /

The Mini 3, meanwhile, rated barely a minute’s mention in the course of a nearly hour-long event Thursday in Cupertino. The company announced the new device in approximately the tone that I used as an 8-year-old to announce to my father that I broke the porch light with my ball.

According to the graphic it flashed on the screen momentarily, the Mini 3 will have a 7.9-inch Retina display, a 5-megapixel iSight camera with 1080p video recording, and some other stuff that was obstructed from my view on the livestream by Phil Schiller’s head. With its fondness for superlatives, Apple might as well have introduced the Mini 3 as “our most desultory new device ever.”

Both new tablets will come with Touch ID, the fingerprint sensor that Apple has offered on its last two generations of iPhones. Oh, and they’ll come in one new color: gold.

But we already knew all most of that, because Apple accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) included screenshots of the new devices in the iOS 8.1 user guide that appeared in iTunes a day early. The only real surprise Thursday was a quirky cameo by Stephen Colbert, who joined the launch event by phone posing as the company’s bumbling chief of security and cracking dad jokes about dad jokes.

It was an appropriate theme for a gadget that appears to be settling into a comfortable middle age.

iPad prices
A lot of people still can't justify spending this much on a gadget they don't really need.

Screenshot /

No doubt these are both fine tablets that will continue to lead the market and please those customers who can afford them. I have an iPad Air at home and it works beautifully for streaming baseball games on my kitchen counter while I do the dishes. Apple announced Thursday that it has sold more than 225 million iPads in all, and more in the past 12 months than any PC-maker has sold PCs. That’s impressive.

Yet the growth in iPad sales has stagnated of late, perhaps in conjunction with the rise of giant smartphones, and the new ones offer nothing that will entice people who weren’t already in the market for one. Apple is treading water in a sector that appears to have matured faster than pundits had predicted.

A significantly larger, 13-inch iPad rumored to be on tap next year could shake things up. In the meantime, though, competitors such as Microsoft and Amazon have a chance to gain ground on Apple with tablets that push the category in fresh directions.

Microsoft’s Surface tablets have been hamstrung by an unpopular software interface, but the hardware is first-rate, and their productivity apps surpass Apple’s already. What's interesting about the Surface 3 is that Microsoft is marketing it not as a shiny toy, but as an all-in-one replacement for your laptop. Amazon’s latest devices include an ultra-cheap Fire tablet and an interesting new "Kids Edition"  that comes with a "no-questions-asked" warranty.

Both of those companies are trying to solve the fundamental limitation of the tablet category, which is that most people can’t justify dropping $500-plus on a gadget that they don’t really need. Apple, in contrast, appears to be working within that limitation, which may make good business sense in the short term but is not a recipe for explosive growth.  

When people approach middle age, their birthday celebrations tend to become a little more restrained. Next time Apple has an announcement this incremental, maybe Tim Cook and company should skip the hoopla and celebrate with a quiet dinner at home.

*Correction, Oct. 16, 2014: This post originally misstated that the iPad Air 2 weighs .96 ounces.

Oct. 16 2014 3:21 PM

Report: Anonymity App Whisper Tracks Users Without Their Consent

We already know that the anonymity promises of anonymous social networks are ... questionable. If you make an account with a service, it has identifying information for you. When you use the app, it can track you. Companies like to claim that they won't take advantage of their customer data. But you can see how it would be tempting to just take a quick peek. The Guardian is reporting that Whisper has caved to that temptation.

Whisper is a social network for anonymously posting secrets about anything.  Its co-founder and CEO Michael Heyward has said that the service is the “safest place on internet.” But when the Guardian—which was considering partnering with Whisper on journalism projects—did some investigating, it made some weird discoveries. It reports that the company is tracking user movements, following certain users' posts carefully if they claimed to work or live in particular places, sharing information with the Department of Defense when people using smartphones on military bases post about suicide and self-harm, and storing user data indefinitely, even when people delete their accounts.

Maybe. The Guardian reports that Whisper denied that it was doing anything wrong multiple times in comments before the article went live, saying that it “does not follow or track users” and that the suggestion that it tracks users is “not true” and “false.”

The Guardian also notes that a few days after it learned about the newspaper's intent to publish, Whisper revised its terms of service and added language that explicitly allows the company to do broad tracking on users (specifically using tools like IP addresses according to the Guardian).

When the article went live, Whisper editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman tweeted:

And three hours after the Guardian article was published, the company said in a statement that:

Whisper does not collect nor store any personally identifiable information from users and is anonymous. There is nothing in our geolocation data that can be tied to an individual user and a user’s anonymity is never compromised. Whisper does not follow or track users. The Guardian’s assumptions that Whisper is gathering information about users and violating user’s privacy are false.

On Twitter, Zimmerman continued to defend the service, noting a particular problem with the Guardian story: The article says that, "Whisper’s targeted monitoring of some people who use the app—even some of those who have declared they do not want to be followed by opting out of geolocation—is likely to surprise its users." But Zimmerman explains that every Whisper user is opted out of geolocation tracking by default, and that in fact users are only tracked when they opt in to share their whereabouts. Furthermore, he says that even then their exact location is "fuzzed" within 500 meters. That's a technical term.

The situation is odd. In its piece the newspaper noted, hilariously, that, "The Guardian is no longer pursuing a relationship with Whisper." But Whisper's response is also strange. The company knew that the article was coming, yet it took three hours after publication to respond. And when it did the response wasn't particularly tailored to article. Zimmerman did publish Whisper's original, detailed responses to the Guardian on Scribd.

Taking a step back, though, it was already public knowledge that Whisper does some user tracking and is considering targeted advertising. None of this is that surprising even if Whisper's marketing to users was overly reassuring. As with the Snapchat leak last week, the main thing this incident highlights is how important it is to be skeptical of any and all privacy claims made by digital services.

Consumers have the right to be treated fairly and to receive the services they are promised in the way they are promised. So depending on what shakes out from all of this, it would be valid if you felt motivated to leave Whisper or cut way back on all the whispering you’ve been doing. But any claim of anonymity should immediately raise a red flag. If you create something, it is extremely difficult to completely sever its connection to you. This was true before the digital age, and it's certainly true now on a secret-sharing app that's mainly meant to provide entertainment.

Oct. 16 2014 10:53 AM

Don’t Let the Name POODLE Fool You. This Security Vulnerability Is Bad News.

You may not think you know what SSL cryptographic protocols are, but you kinda do. Remember Heartbleed? That was a bug in the OpenSSL cryptography library, which implements the protocols. Basically these are all components of the encryption that's supposed to keep you safe and private on the Web. Except now Google researchers have found a bug in the long-outdated, but still widely used SSL 3.0 protocols.

The vulnerability, called Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption or POODLE, allows an evildoer to compromise the secure connection between a user and a website and steal data or launch an attack. The vulnerability isn't as extreme a threat as Heartbleed but is still a problem because SSL 3.0 is fairly ubiquitous. Additionally, the bug can be resolved by removing SSL 3.0 support, but this isn't necessarily a feasible solution in terms of online comaptibility, so Google has been testing alternative patch mechanisms in Chrome and offers suggestions in the paper.

Get ready for this: SSL 3.0 was released in 1996. That's almost 20 years ago and makes it older than Windows XP, which is basically the oldest thing ever. SSL, Secure Sockets Layer, was replaced by TSL, Transport Layer Security, in 1999. TSL 1.0 was based on SSL 3.0, but some improvements made them incompatible. So SSL 3.0 became a sort of backup. There have been two more versions of TSL since 1999, and there's a third in the works now, but SSL 3.0 always hung around as an alternative that browsers and secure Web servers could turn to if TSL encountered an error. This widespread use is what makes the POODLE vulnerability a concern.

In a blog post one of the three Google researchers who published the vulnerability, Bodo Möller, explains:

SSL 3.0 is nearly 18 years old, but support for it remains widespread. Most importantly, nearly all browsers support it and, in order to work around bugs in HTTPS servers, browsers will retry failed connections with older protocol versions, including SSL 3.0. Because a network attacker can cause connection failures, they can trigger the use of SSL 3.0 and then exploit this issue.

As an individual there's not much you can do to patch Web servers or keep your browser from being tricked into reverting to SSL 3.0 so an attacker can exploit the bug. But you can stay off public Wi-Fi and other networks you don't trust. CNET outlines some more technical steps you can take if you want to use plugins or the command line to manually disable SSL 3.0 on your browser. It also points to a University of Michigan POODLE page that provides additional directions.

This POODLE assessment is also reassuring because it shows that only 0.12 percent of the top 1 million sites online don't have TSL support. That means that very little Web traffic, a fraction of a percent, relies on SSL 3.0. Since the Google researchers show that an attacker could trick your browser into defaulting down to SSL 3.0, this doesn't in itself eliminate concerns about the threat, but it does indicate that very little traffic has been exposed.

Google says, "This POODLE bites," but really the only reasonable response is oy with the poodles already.

Oct. 15 2014 6:23 PM

Dog in Ebola Quarantine Isn’t Adorable Dog in Bath Photo, Remains Cute Nonetheless

The Internet scandal of the day is that the dog above wasn’t exposed to Ebola. That’s a good thing! But it’s bad for news outlets that included the photo in their coverage of a very similar-looking dog being quarantined because of Ebola exposure.

The New York Post and Daily Mail—along with others that followed their lead—included the bath photo in their coverage of Bentley, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel owned by Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola last week. Legitimate photos of the real Bentley being quarantined were also included in both articles, but the bath photo doesn’t depict some type of anti-Ebola rinse. It simply shows a different dog of the same breed taking a bath.

As you can see above, it seems that the bath photo originally came from the Instagram of user pennytigerlilly and was published around June 2013. It’s a cute picture, and Imgur versions have circulated on Reddit a number of times. But the apparent owner, whose Reddit name is also pennytigerlily, has been consistently trying to defend his or her ownership of the photo with comments like "NOT YOUR PICTURE. STOP REPOSTING." And, “Very strange to have someone else tell me my dog is on the front page of reddit—when I didn’t even have an account.”

Pennytigerlilly must have gone through the roof when he or she realized that the photo had traveled beyond the front page of Reddit, to news stories implying that the pooch had been exposed to Ebola. (Slate messaged pennytigerlily for comment on Instagram, but we haven’t heard back.) The Instagram account hasn’t had a post since April 2014 and pennytigerlilly hasn’t been active on Reddit for a year. But here's bath pup in drier post-bath times.

So how did the Post and Daily Mail end up making this mistake? The bath photo had also been circulating on Pinterest, and Pham pinned it to her board, along with other snapshots of anonymous Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The Pinterest account that appears to be hers, ninapham88, has been taken down. But the Daily Dot credits two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel photos to her Pinterest.

Cute animal photos plus an Ebola tie-in are a great recipe for Internet traffic, so it seems like the Post and Daily Mail were just excited to take the story live and either didn’t bother to verify that the photo was of the same dog or planned to piggyback on the cuteness as a (misleading) symbolic example of the breed. Both sites seem to understand, at least in this case, that that was a bad idea. The Post took its article down for a while and put it back up without the bath photo (it also never had a caption claiming that the bath dog was Bentley), and the bath photo no longer appears in the Daily Mail story.

The Daily Dot calls inclusion of the bath photo “an act of journalistic malpractice that boggles the [mind].” That seems a little excessive. It’s likely that in their rush to post, the sites just assumed that the bath dog was Bentley because the photo was on Pham's Pinterest and the dogs look extremely similar. That’s certainly bad journalistic practice and shows questionable knowledge of social media, since Pinterest is less of a site for sharing personal photos and more of a place for media discovery. Still, it’s definitely not the worst photo gaffe ever.

Now let’s all return to the real Bentley—who is just as adorable as bath dog, is (presumably) lonely in isolation, and has an owner who is legitimately sick.

Bentley the dog entering quarantine
The actual Bentley being transported in Dallas on Monday in a photo by Dallas Animal Services and Adoption Center.

Photo via Reuters

Oct. 15 2014 1:40 PM

Netizen Report: Calls for Social Media Censorship in Name of National Security

The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Bojan Perkov, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. We begin this week’s report in the world of social media, where major platforms are facing pressure to change their practices in order to mitigate threats to state power.

In Egypt, the Cairo Administrative Court is set to hear a case calling for a ban on Facebook and Twitter, allegedly out of concern for national security. Local lawyer Mohamed Hamed Selim claims that the sites are being used as tools in “intelligence plots against the state” and that they played a key role in the uprising that began in January 2011. The case also could pose a major threat to anonymity on social networks, as it calls for all social media users to register their accounts using “verifiable personal details” and for accounts created under fake identities to be banned. Selim proposes that if companies wish to maintain a presence in the country, they should obtain legal permission to operate in Egypt.

Meanwhile, European Commission officials are pressuring Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to more proactively mitigate the presence of violent extremist groups online. Officials suggested that companies pre-screen content posted by users before it becomes publicly visible, or that they ban certain groups from their platforms altogether. Not surprisingly, companies are pushing back, explaining the technical challenges that this would pose and arguing that such practices could create a slippery slope toward much tighter content controls across their platforms.

Koreans ditch Kakao Talk for secure alternatives
After South Korean President Park Geun-hye threatened to prosecute people spreading rumors about her on popular Korean messaging app Kakao Talk, many Koreans are switching to Telegram, a chat app that offers end-to-end encryption. The Germany-based app has reportedly received roughly 1.5 million new users from South Korea since the beginning of October. “Welcome to exile” has become the official greeting among users who ditched Kakao Talk for Telegram.   

U.K. mobile providers are giving police mobile data—unsolicited
An investigation by the Guardian indicated that U.K. mobile carriers including EE, Vodafone, and Three are voluntarily giving British police automated access to customer metadata. U.K. data retention laws do not require them to do this.

Journal from an Ethiopian prison
Global Voices’ Endalk Chala translated original testimony from blogger and human rights advocate Befeqadu Hailu, who has been in prison in Ethiopia since April of 2014. Hailu recounts his work as a blogger with the Zone9 collective and describes the brutal interrogation tactics, torture, and other human rights abuses that he and his fellow bloggers have experienced.

Advocates take FinFisher to task on Bahrain spy case
Advocacy groups Privacy International and Bhatt Murphy Solicitors are arguing that Gamma International, the Germany- and U.K.-based maker of FinFisher surveillance software, “ought to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the commission of a serious crime” by selling the software to the Bahraini government. The groups stated their claim in a criminal complaint filed with the U.K.’s National Cyber Crime Unit, pointing to technical evidence that the Bahraini government had used the software to spy on human rights activists.

Social media giants wrestle with European requests to forget
Google issued its first transparency report about the “right to be forgotten,” revealing that Europeans made 144,938 requests for links to be removed from its search results. The companied complied with 42 percent of the requests. According to the report, the French are responsible for the most removal requests at 29,010 referrals, followed by Germans with 25,078 and Britons with 18,304 requests.

Netizen Activism
The Electronic Frontier Foundation will present a Pioneer Award to visual artist Trevor Paglen for his work producing photographs of state surveillance operations in an effort to “make the invisible visible.” According to Paglen, state surveillance operations should have processes as transparent as those of public libraries in order to strengthen their relationships with citizens.

Cool Things
Carlos Pedro is going where Google’s Street View and the Brazilian Post Office have never gone before by creating detailed digital maps of Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela. Since most homes in Brazilian favelas do not have legal addresses, their residents have a difficult time receiving letters. Pedro is working to create a functional mail delivery system for local residents.