Medical records will no longer appear in Google search results – The Washington Post

“In the medical space, though, there is nothing more invasive towards one’s privacy than having a medical record indexed in a Google search that millions of people can see,” said Hemu Nigam, the chief executive of SSP Blue, a company that specializes in cybersecurity affairs. “This is a great move, but why did it take so long?”

Source: Medical records will no longer appear in Google search results – The Washington Post

Every Step You Take, I’ll Be Tracking You

Lately, it seems like we hear a story every week about a new security breach concerning our personal information.  Just a few weeks ago, Epsilon was hacked and millions of email addresses were stolen. A few weeks later, Sony announced that their worldwide gaming network too was hacked.  And now, companies like Apple and Google are being scrutinized for their questionable iPhone and Android tracking processes.

In a paper recently released on Radar O’Reilly, researchers revealed that they had uncovered a hidden file in iPhones and iPads that regularly records the location of the user. To make matters worse, the file in which all this is stored is unencrypted; that means that anyone with access to a user’s iPhone or iPad could unveil the user’s entire history of where they had been (or at least their device had been).  On top of that, the information collected is also transferred to your computer anytime you sync your device. Even if a customer buys a new device and syncs the new device with the original computer, all the location data will end up on the new device.

So the question is – what tracking is necessary for the device to function? For instance, in order for your phone to find reception it must be able to locate cell towers as you travel.  In order for an iPhone to locate a new wireless network, it also needs to use GPS in order to see where the networks are. Why though is Apple storing this information? The extent to which Apple has gone appears to be extreme.

If you’re thinking that this shouldn’t be acceptable, you’re not alone.  Some rather high profile voices have contributed to the debate.  Senator Franken of Minnesota published an open letter to Steve Jobs chastising Apple for tracking and storing this information.  The head of the Electronic Privacy Information Clearinghouse is also questioning whether Apple violated its own terms of service agreement which ensures that customer information will be guarded appropriately.  A group of people in Florida have even gone so far as to file class action lawsuits against the company.

The immediate and strong outpouring of global concern about this invasion of privacy prompted a few short responses from Apple at the outset, and then one big answer to the issue – a software update. This most recent update to the operating system will turn off tracking and disallow storage of information after one week.  Don’t worry, your iPhone and iPad will still transmit location information that is necessary for device functioning, but all the other information will be erased. This information will no longer be stored on your computer when you sync your device. As for the Android, a spokesperson from Google has said that “any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”

Since these announcements initial panic has decreased but we continue to be reminded that our privacy must always be guarded vigilantly. And best of all, companies like Apple and Google are listening to your voice by not tracking your whereabouts.

The Amazing Race: Back to Basics

The last episode of The Amazing Race brought us back to life as we used to know it and how much of the world still knows it.  The contestants walked, rode elephants, took the bus, hitch-hiked, and rode in taxi cabs.  They took notes on simple notepads to remember the placement of figures on temple replicas and they asked pedestrians and office workers for directions just by stopping them on the streets.  The twins, Liz and Marie, even convinced two separate cab drivers to give them a ride for free when they ran out of money.  In essence, they hitch-hiked in Bangkok, Thailand.

All of this ‘back to basics’ reminded me of a trip I took to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh with a U.S. delegation tasked by the White House to find ways to reduce the trafficking of women and children in that region.  As an envoy for the U.S. government, we traveled in Land Rovers driven by well-trained drivers.  Each time we stopped at a police controlled traffic signal, we would see the line of traffic that appears nothing like what we see in the U.S.  Instead of a line of cars waiting for the green, we saw a line of ‘vehicles’ consisting of horse drawn carriages, air-conditioned Mercedes, ox-drawn carts, passenger buses, bicycles, and rickshaws, all waiting for the policeman to blow the whistle.

It was a stark reminder of how in America we shed the old when we adopt the new.  We do it in all sorts of ways from new cars to new iPhones.  In fact, Steve Jobs’ creative genius put this ‘out with old, in with the new’ consumer buying habit on steroids.  With every new iPhone release, lines form around Apple stores with folks willing to spend hundreds of dollars just to get the latest gadget the minute it hits the market.

And yet, for some reason this phenomenon hasn’t traversed to the other side of the world.  In many other countries, we see the adoption of the new being intertwined with the retention of the old – the old of hundreds of years ago.  Placed in this setting, our Amazing Race contestants did just fine even though they were forced into using tools of a world they no longer live in – a world full of GPS devices, Google maps, cell phones, iPads, and iPhones.  And most importantly, they did it with a sense of patience.

Is it possible that our quick to consume society is starting to replace a time of thoughtful relaxation?

The Amazing Race: Text Me So I Can Hear You

Last week’s episode of The Amazing Race was the most uncomfortable ever and strangely last night’s episode was the most comfortable ever.  Last week brother and sister couple, Justin and Jennifer, fought, shouted, yelled, screamed, bickered, and argued during the entire episode.  They even argued when they were simply waiting for a train and not in the throes of a challenge.  It got to the point that it was not only visibly disturbing for the other contestants to watch, but it was even disturbing for us as viewers to watch.  Last night’s episode was quite the opposite.  While mention was made that everyone hoped Justin and Jennifer wouldn’t be at each other’s throats, most of the episode was dedicated to cordiality between team mates and cooperation amongst teams.  All of this set in the rice fields of Indonesia and a 9th-century Buddhist temple at Borobudur.

The contrasting episodes of painful bickering and peaceful living made me wonder whether life would be better lived in a world without smartphones and the Internet – a techno-less society to slow us down and take away our need for instant gratification that usually leads to instant frustration.  Justin and Jennifer are prime examples of folks who have been pushed to extreme emotions without the comforts of what they are used to – looking up things on Google, having a GPS to take them to their next destination, and having the luxury of air conditioning wherever they are.

Is there any way all this fancy technology can help them get along or do they need to slow down and plant rice for awhile?

Every word Justin spoke, Jennifer responded to.  And, vice versa.  But if you actually listened, you would notice that they were both talking so loud they couldn’t hear each other.  They weren’t communicating at all.  They weren’t listening, responding, listening, reacting.  And here is where technology can save them.  If they could just send a text to each other, even while standing next to each other, they would be forced to process their thoughts, think of the right words to articulate them, breath while they typed them into a texting device, and wait for the reply.  This texting back and forth would allow them to actually have a conversation without speaking a word.  It is the conversation that human relationships are built upon.  A little technology can allow couples to communicate without having to live on a rice farm on the other side of the world.

So next time someone is talking so loud that you can’t hear them, send a text.

Hanging in the Clouds

The Internet is abuzz with discussion of a new technology called cloud computing. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google are leading the way in introducing this new technology to the public. With the launch of any new technology come a variety of questions. What exactly is cloud computing? Do I need it? Are there risks involved?

Cloud computing allows people to access and use their software applications and files anywhere on the Internet. Think of it as “Files On Demand.” Say you have an important file on your home PC. Store it in a password-protected cloud and you could access the file from any computer, anywhere you have Internet access. Chances are, you already use some form of Cloud Computing and don’t know it. Access documents on Google Docs? You’re in the cloud.  Store your files remotely using services like Mozy or Mobile Me, and you’re in the cloud.

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In short, cloud computing is remote file storage and access, a space for all kinds of documents from pictures to songs, that is accessible through any Internet connected computer.  The greatest benefit for us is that we can store more information and use more software than we have the hardware to support.

The majority of casual Internet users don’t “need” to store stuff in the cloud. But it can be a very valuable asset.  Remote storage guards against hard drive failure or a glitch that erases files.  Also, it allows easy access to files wherever you might need them so you don’t have to store information (or really big files) on your machine. Instead, you can just access them when you need them and put them back in the cloud when you’re done.

Hanging in the clouds is not just for you, even companies like to go to the cloud. Watch this commercial from Microsoft to see how a start-up company uses cloud computing to collaborate.

So you may be wondering, what are the risks?  As with anything related to computers and the Internet, there will be risks incurred. A growing number of people are looking more carefully at the risks of cloud computing: data hacking can cause serious, long-term damage.

Because information is stored in remote and, often, unknown locations, there is the chance that it can be hacked. This is probably the biggest risk and one that, more and more, people feel outweighs the benefits of cloud computing. That said, more and more effort is also being put into increasing cloud security.

Or, you might just find out that the cloud isn’t behaving.  Just today, Amazon users suffered from this, and Amazon is the leader in cloud computing.

Should you rise to the clouds?  That all depends on how much money you need to save, how hard it is for you to travel with your documents and software applications, and how much you believe in the security and reliability of the cloud you are going to use.  And that is something you’ll have to decide.