Daily Archives: June 8, 2011

EU to launch probe into ‘creepy’ Facebook feature

Facebook stirs privacy ire with facial recognition

computerworld.com | Jun 8, 2011

By Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld – Facebook’s move to enable facial recognition across its entire social networking site is raising some eyebrows – and possibly some legal woes — over its privacy implications.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced in a blog post that it was working to make it easier for uses to tag photos of their friends and family members. To do this, it has been quietly rolling out facial recognition technology to a test group across the world’s biggest social network since late last year.

That means Facebook’s system will be able to recognize the faces of its 500 million to 600 million users worldwide. The company will be able to identify you simply by your face.

Facebook noted that starting in just a few weeks, its system will scan all photos posted to Facebook and will offer up the names of the people who appear in the frame. All of Facebook’s users are automatically being added to the database.

The facial recognition feature is automatically turned on. Users who don’t want the service must go in and manually opt out of it.

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Facebook to Be Probed in EU for Facial Recognition in Photos

A day after the announcement was made, data protection regulators at the European Union said they will launch an investigation into it, according to the Bloomberg news service, which also reported that authorities in the U.K. and Ireland are looking into the matter.

“Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default,” said Gerard Lommel, a member of the EU’s Data Protection Working Party, according to Bloomberg. Such automatic tagging suggestions “can bear a lot of risks for users” and the European data-protection officials will “clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

However, Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, said it’s clear that Facebook hasn’t learned any big lessons from its previous privacy brouhahas.

“Facebook’s repeated methodology of opting all users into new services, particularly services with potentially damaging ramifications, demonstrates a certain disregard for the security and privacy of its users,” Shimmin said. “When applied broadly, it can undermine our overall privacy — perhaps putting an end to anonymity altogether. With the proliferation of cameras and the major role they play in Facebook, wherever you go, you may be identified and catalogued for future reference.”

Over the past year or so, Facebook has found itself in the center of several firestorms related to privacy issues.

Just last fall, it was revealed that some of Facebook’s most popular applications, such as FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille, had been sending users’ personal information to dozens of advertising and Internet monitoring companies. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, the issue affected tens of millions of users, even those who had set their privacy settings to the strictest levels.

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Facebook secretly changed privacy setting

The new facial recognition technology analyses photographs to detect if a person’s face belongs to a fellow Facebook user and then encourages their online friends to “tag” them – the practice of assigning a name to a person who appears in a photograph.

heraldsun.com.au | Jun 9, 2011

FACEBOOK has secretly changed the privacy settings of users outside the US by activating new technology that automatically recognises people in photographs.

The social networking company, which has previously come under scrutiny for its privacy practices, admitted today that it should have been “more clear” with users before the launch of the feature.

The new facial recognition technology analyses photographs to detect if a person’s face belongs to a fellow Facebook user and then encourages their online friends to “tag” them – the practice of assigning a name to a person who appears in a photograph.

However, Facebook does not give users the option to avoid being tagged in an image, and they must manually “untag” themselves if they do not want their name linked to a photograph.

The feature, “Tag Suggestions”, went live in the US in December and was rolled out across the rest of the world in the past few days without warning, according to internet security firm Sophos.

“Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth,” Graham Cluley, a senior technology analyst at Sophos, wrote on the company’s blog.

Facebook said, “We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them”.

The company said that the new feature only suggests tagging people who are already friends with the user who posts the image, so strangers cannot be identified on other people’s photographs.

It added that its 500 million users can opt out of the feature by customizing their privacy settings.

Facebook has a history of automatically updating its users’ settings to activate new features, with privacy advocates arguing that users should have to “opt-in” to new technology that could affect their privacy.

World’s most powerful group meets in St Moritz


Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Bilderberg Group meetings are definitely not held over a picnic at the lake of St Moritz (Keystone)

Dominique Baettig from the Swiss People’s Party has filed a motion denouncing the “opaque supranational governance”.

swissinfo.ch | Jun 8, 2011

by Nicole della Pietra

The Bilderberg Group, a controversial invitation-only gathering of the world’s power brokers, is set to meet in the Swiss resort of St Moritz on Thursday.

Critics denounce the four-day conference, which is closed to the prying eyes of the media and doesn’t issue any press releases, for having a deleterious influence on world politics.

Previous guests include kings, presidents, captains of industry and heads of international organisations. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has attended, as have Microsoft founder Bill Gates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and current Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke.

Another regular is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, currently facing criminal charges.

“The Bilderberg Group is like a restricted circle of guests from the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos,” said Sergio Rossi, economics professor at Fribourg University.

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He said the regulars at Bilderberg – named after the original conference held at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands in 1954 – find the WEF a “hectic beanfeast”.

At Bilderberg, “one is at Hermès”, noted Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, referring to the French luxury goods maker.

Invitees appreciate being able to discuss “openly and freely” the issues facing the world, such as the health of the euro or the greenback.

Pascal Couchepin, a former Swiss cabinet minister who regularly attended Bilderberg meetings, proudly compared the annual get-together to a “university seminar for people with experience”.

But not all Swiss politicians are so welcoming. Dominique Baettig from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party has filed a motion denouncing the “opaque supranational governance”.

“This type of meeting, between powerful global players, is contrary to our principles of sovereignty,” he said. “What’s more, they don’t publish the costs for the taxpayer.”

Local thrill

The allure of the ultra-select club is not fading, as proved by the private jets landing at nearby Samedan airport, the lines of limousines with tinted windows and phalanxes of bodyguards.

And above all, the relatively discreet arrival of VIPs – something that delights the local authorities.

“We’re thrilled that these key figures have chosen to meet in Graubünden,” said Martin Schmid, president of the cantonal senate.

Which key figures exactly are gracing Graubünden with their presence is impossible to say, but, as every year, the guest list is exclusively reserved for decision-makers from Europe and North America.

In an unusual step, Swiss minister Doris Leuthard, who holds the environment, transport, energy and communications portfolios, admitted she would attend this year.

It’s the fifth time that the planet’s most exclusive conclave has met in Switzerland: it was held three times in Bürgenstock above Lake Lucerne and once at Bad Ragaz in canton St Gallen.

Conspiracy theorists

This year, some 130 movers and shakers are expected. As with Davos and the WEF, St Moritz will be heavily fortified – one difference, however, being the total lack of information on security or how much taxpayers will have to cough up.

Barbara Janom-Steiner, head of cantonal justice and police, is keeping her lips sealed.

For conspiracy theorists, Bilderberg is nothing more than an “International Schemers’ Association” whose aim is to create a “secret world government”.

They point to the total lack of transparency which characterises discussions, since every participant swears never to reveal any contents of conversations.

However, this has not prevented titbits from leaking out – last year for example the discussions apparently focused on Iraq, Greece and the health – or lack of it – of the euro.

Coincidence?

Bilderberg never results in any form of resolution or agreement, nevertheless some people see a decisive influence on global political affairs.

Among what they consider previous troubling coincidences: in 1991, Bill Clinton, then a mere governor, was said to have been set up as future US president; in 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, then US secretary of defense, was said to have planned the intervention of coalition forces in Iraq.

In 2003, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, allegedly unveiled a preview of the European Constitution.

But as the world’s media peer into the tinted windows of St Moritz, Sergio Rossi believes Bilderberg could be just the tip of the iceberg.

“There might be other groups – less institutionalised, with a more recent history and above all less well-known than Bilderberg, even in developing countries – whose members meet without anyone knowing anything about it.”

Bilderberg 2011: The polished blue line


Privates on parade: the Bilderberg security takes position. Photograph: M Petrisch

Charlie Skelton arrives in Switzerland ahead of Bilderberg to find a different style of policing but enhanced cleanliness

guardian.co.uk  | Jun 8, 2011

by Charlie Skelton

You know you’re in Switzerland when the public lavatory at the multi-storey car park is cleaner than your own bathroom. And the streets! My God, you could eat your dinner off the pavement in St Moritz. I’m seriously thinking of writing to Tower Hamlets council suggesting they come here on a fact-finding tour. Although what the hell are they doing on a freebie junket to Switzerland when they’re busy cutting our rubbish collections? It’s a disgrace! I’m going to write to Tower Hamlets council to complain.

I don’t know quite what I was expecting from a Swiss Bilderberg. I was expecting it clean, but I wasn’t expecting the Bilderberg I’ve found. For one thing, I was imagining a rather muted atmosphere, stern even – batons up, visors down – but there’s a happy buzz around the venue: the conference doesn’t kick off until Thursday but already there’s a growing crowd of journalists, bloggers and activists. The social justice group We Are Change are here in force. And (praise be!) representatives of the mainstream media are rolling up.

One of them is Anna Caprez, a journalist from Radio Rumantch, the Swiss radio station. She’s putting together a series of reports about the conference. “It’s a big story”, she says. “But only in March or April did we realize what Bilderberg is, or even that there is a Bilderberg conference.”

She says it’s unusual to have the press descend on St Moritz like this. “We’re used to letting people do what they want here in the valley, in the Engadine. St Moritz is a special place. VIPs can be incognito, we’re used to famous people – who cares? – they can act and react without the press crawling over them. But this is different. This is important. And the media in Switzerland has finally woken up to it. The Swiss TV are coming, Swiss Radio, the Italian media. And it is thanks to him.”

Anna nods towards a man smoking a cheroot, enjoying a rare glimpse of alpine sun. “It is thanks to Manfred”. The Manfred in question takes a peek down a foot-long camera lens, which he’s focusing down on a security briefing in the hotel lobby. “There must be 300 security, easily” he growls.

Manfred Petrisch is a Swiss blogger and a long-time Bilderbotherer. This year, the conference is on his home turf, and he’s been lobbying politicians and the mainstream press for weeks.

“We put pressure on the media, we ask: “Why aren’t you reporting this?” – and now at last they have started. Of course, some of what they write is the usual, you know: just a meeting of some old guys sitting round, having a cup of tea.” He snorts his derision: “Come on! A four-day cup of tea, with heads of global companies, heads of state, EU commissioners, leaders of Nato, bank CEOs, people with a full schedule. They are not here for a cup of tea!”

Manfred has pulled strings with politicians, and questions have been asked in the Swiss parliament. “We asked and asked again: who is paying for all this? If we are to have a huge police force protecting a private meeting, as usual, then who is paying? The taxpayer? We made it a political problem.”

And the pressure seems to have paid off. “Look at what has happened! There is no police line, there is only private security. And they are not armed, not threatening, like in Greece or Spain. They are quite friendly. Of course, there are police here, inside the hotel, and secret services, lots of them, but they are in the background. This is a big victory.”

And it’s true – at first glance, this year’s conference could hardly be more different from Spain 2010 or Greece 2009. We’re standing, unharrassed, on a pavement not 50 metres from the hotel. Last year, in Sitges, the press was kept a kilometre away, at the business end of a machine gun. In Vouliagmeni the cordon was even wider, maybe a kilometre and a half, with (literally) hundreds of pumped-up policemen strip searching and camera snatching. St Moritz may be further from the beach, but apart from that it’s a gigantic improvement. “This is Switzerland!” explains Manfred. “That sort of thing cannot happen here. This is a democracy.”

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Bilderberg 2011: All aboard the Bilderbus


St Moritz: Preparing to host Bilderberg. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

As the Bilderberg conference heads towards Switzerland there’s still time to book your seat on a minibus to St Moritz

guardian.co.uk | Jun 3, 2011

by Charlie Skelton

As Europe groans, and austerity bites, as defaulting looms, and once proud nations fall to their knees in debt, there’s only one annual conference of bankers and industrialists that can step in and save us all…

Bilderberg!

Next week, in Switzerland, Henry Kissinger and his brave band of corporate CEOs, high-wealth individuals and heavyweight thinktankers will lock arms with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and David Rockefeller, and stand their ground against the economic contagion.

The last thing a bunch of bank bosses and multinational executives wants is for the nation-states of Europe to collapse, allowing their assets to be bought up on the cheap. Right?

Besides, if anyone can lay claim to fathering the EU, it’s Bilderberg. Sixty years ago, Europe was a mere Bilderbaby, conceived in a solemn ceremony on Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands’ mattress. It grew into a fine young Bilderboy, but the years have caught up with it, and now it seems its knees are creaking and its heart is weak.

Perhaps the clear mountain air of St Moritz will prove just the tonic. The Bilderberg Group is gathering there between 9-12 June, at the Hotel Suvretta House, described on its website thus: “Like a beautiful fairytale castle, our hotel is embedded in the fantastic alpine landscape of the Upper Engadine.” No mention of the magical rooftop snipers or the fairytale ring of armed riot police, but maybe they’ll be updating their website in time for the conference.

The hotel promises that the Privatsphäre of the guests will be utterly respektiert, which goes for the conference, as well: the press will be lucky to get a whiff of Kissinger’s toast in the morning. It’s a shame the attendees are still so phobic of attention, seeing as how this year there’s shaping up to be more press interest than ever. People and the media have finally started noticing this quiet little conference at the centre of the storm. The last two countries to play host to the meeting were Greece and Spain, both of whom waved goodbye to Bilderberg and said hello to austerity and unrest. Happy Christmas, Switzerland.

This year, a bunch of less-than-happy Brits are heading out to St Moritz by minibus, to voice their concern at the policies being thrashed out at the conference. They’ve dubbed their fifteen-seater the Bilderbus, and it leaves Nottingham on Tuesday after work. There are still ten seats to fill: it’s £95 return, and camping’s cheap when you get there. And I can’t stress this enough: it really is a sight to behold. (The conference, not the minibus).

There are two seats free on the bus, since Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Ken Clarke have both been forced to cancel. Which is good news for the chamber maids at the Suvretta House (because Ken is so very untidy – cigar stubs and Ornette Coleman CDs everywhere …)

If you’d like to book a place on the minibus, you can email the organisers at this address: bilderbus@hotmail.com. And if you’re interested to see what crops up on the official Bilderberg agenda, then keep an eye on their website. Jockeying for position are the crisis in the eurozone, the Arab Spring, the Fukushima fallout (with Germany backing away from nuclear), and of course, what to do about the internet. That old chestnut.

Maybe this year they’ll hold a press conference like, I don’t know, grown-ups might. I won’t be holding my breath. But I will be sniffing the air of St Moritz. If I find out one thing this year, it’s going to be what Kissinger has for breakfast. Live eels snatched from a bucket? Or ducklings? Suddenly I’m imagining ducklings. And a mallet.

Humans become ‘pets’ in rise of the machines: Apple co-founder


Steve Wozniak: “We’re going to become the pets, the dogs of the house.” Photo: Bloomberg

theage.com.au | June 6, 2011

by Tony Bartlett

Machines have won the war and the human race is destined to become little more than house pets.

That’s the future according to one of the smartest geeks on the planet, Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computers and is convinced that in his lifetime he will see computer intelligence equal that of humans.

The Woz is to the technological world what The Fonz was to leather jackets and denim, and when he talks, the global industry listens.

As technology explodes, humans are not going to be needed so much in the future and will settle back into a life of ease, Mr Wozniak told a business congress on the Gold Coast on Friday.

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“We’re already creating the superior beings, I think we lost the battle to the machines long ago,” he said.

“We’re going to become the pets, the dogs of the house.”

He said all of a sudden, true artificial intelligence will creep up on mankind like an accident.

“Every time we create new technology we’re creating stuff to do the work we used to do and we’re making ourselves less meaningful, less relevant.

“Why are we going to need ourselves so much in the future? We’re just going to have the easy life,” he said.

Mr Wozniak said Singularity, where a machine seems like a human being and has feelings, can think and be motivated, seemed an impossible dream to him years ago.

When he started Apple, he said, he never thought a computer would be powerful enough to hold an entire song and today we can fit 50 movies on a little disc in an iPhone.

“You don’t realise it’s happened until it’s there and I think that awareness of machines is getting very, very close and we’re getting close to where a machine will really understand you,” Mr Wozniak said.

“My comment about the machines winning the war is partly a joke, but we’ve accidentally already put so much in place that we can’t get rid of from our lives.

“Once we have machines doing our high-level thinking, there’s so little need for ourselves and you can’t ever undo it – you can never turn them off.”

Facebook quietly switches on facial recognition tech by default

Tag, you’re it. Zuckerberg amps up data-farming mission creep

theregister.co.uk | Jun 7, 2011

By Kelly Fiveash

Facebook has rolled out its facial recognition technology to countries outside of the US, but has switched the feature on by default without telling its users first.

UK-based security expert Graham Cluely noted earlier today that Facebook had slotted the tech into the social network.

The Mark Zuckerberg-run company started using its facial recognition software in December last year for its Stateside users in a move to automatically provide tags for the photos uploaded by Facebook users.

The tech works by scanning newly uploaded pics and then identifies faces from previously tagged photos already stored in Zuckerberg’s internet silo.

When the software was introduced in the US late last year, Facebook pointed out that users could disable the function.

“If for any reason you don’t want your name to be suggested, you will be able to disable suggested tags in your Privacy Settings,” the company wrote on its blog post last December.

But now that the tech has reached other shores, Facebook clearly didn’t feel the need to alert its international stalkerbase that its facial recognition software had been switched on by default within the social network.

The “Suggest photos of me to friends” feature in question is located in the company’s privacy settings. Facebookers need to click on “customise settings” before being able to access the function and disable it, if they so wish.

“Unfortunately, once again, Facebook seems to be sharing personal information by default. Many people feel distinctly uncomfortable about a site like Facebook learning what they look like, and using that information without their permission,” said Cluley.

“Most Facebook users still don’t know how to set their privacy options safely, finding the whole system confusing. It’s even harder though to keep control when Facebook changes the settings without your knowledge.”

He said Facebook shouldn’t require its users to constantly check their privacy settings to see what the company has changed since their last visit to the site.

“The onus should not be on Facebook users having to ‘opt-out’ of the facial recognition feature, but instead on users having to ‘opt-in’,” he said.

“Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth.”