Police Tracking Your Every Move With License Plate Readers

Posted November 23rd, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Privacy. Its on everyones minds these days. A couple of months ago it was Apple and Google that were drawing the ire of consumers with the storing of location data. And of course, Facebook is always mentioned when people discuss their concerns about online privacy. But as technology gets better, and the tools used to capture information and the databases used to store and disseminate the information become more capable, the lines between online and offline privacy continue to blur.

On that note, lets say that you are having a Sunday afternoon picnic with your child. The weathers good, youve been running around and playing but now its time for lunch. You open up the cooler, only to discover that youve left a couple of the sandwiches in the car. The cars just a few yards away, so you quickly run to grab the sandwiches.

And in a split second, you look back to see that your child is gone. You catch a black sedan speeding away and you are barely able to catch the license plate. Because you caught that license plate, police are able to search a giant database of plate captures and track the movements of the kidnapper.

A classic question: What is more important, public safety or personal freedom? What are you willing to sacrifice? Let us know in the comments.

Ok, I know this whole scenario seems a little bit Without A Trace or Lifetime movie-esque, but the point is that police were able to use an ever-expanding database of data culled from license plate snapshots in order to generate real-time location information. Thats a reality, and its happening in our nations capital, among other places.

The Washington Post is reporting that police in D.C. are beefing up the area covered by license plate cameras. More than 250 cameras in D.C. and its suburbs are constantly hard at work, grabbing license plate numbers and sticking them into databases. The police arent exactly doing this quietly, but its being done with virtually no public debate.

The highest concentration of these plate readers in the entire nation exists in D.C. (one reader per square mile), so that means that District police are building the biggest location database based on license plates in the whole country.

Lets take a brief look at these license plate readers.

First, these are apparently different types of cameras than the cameras cities have been affixing near stoplights and other places to catch people running red lights or speeding the heres a ticket 2 weeks later in the mail cameras.

These plate readers cost about $20,000 each and can snatch images of numbers and letters on cars traveling nearly 150 mph and across four lanes of traffic. These plate readers in D.C. take 1,800 images per minute, every one of which is stored in a database.

Basically, these plate readers have made it possible for police to track everyones movements as they move across the city.

These plate readers and the subsequent database of image captures has tipped the privacy concerns of some notably the American Civil Liberties Union. One of their main concerns is naturally the privacy implications.

In the District, laws are in place that limit the amount of time that surveillance camera footage can be kept. The images must be dumped after 10 days, unless there is an actual investigatory reason to keep them. But right now, there is nothing keeping data from the plate readers from being stored for years.

The ACLU says that this database is storing the location data of innocent people. And they are right. The plate readers are casting an all-inclusive net, grabbing license plate numbers indiscriminately.

Clearly this technology is rapidly approaching the point where it could be used to reconstruct the entire movements of any individual vehicle. As we have argued in the context of GPS tracking that level of intrusion on private life is something that the police should not be able to engage in without a warrant.

Lets think back to the slightly-stylized child abduction scene from the beginning of this article. Maybe that seems a bit far-fetched, but the reality of the situation is that the plate reader database has helped police. According to the D.C. police department, they make an arrest a day with the help of the plate readers. In a four month period this year, they also found 51 stolen cars.

And although our child abduction story above might seem unrealistic, the possibilities are there for the plate readers to help in truly significant ways. Police could track cars to and from murder scenes or use it to identify players in organized crime circles like sex trafficking by logging which cars travel between certain locations.

But the fact that the technology is beneficial or could be beneficial in terms of law enforcement does not assuage concerns of a surveillance society becoming the norm in the U.S. Its a classic argument that pits personal liberties against security and safety. Just how much of your freedom are you able to give up to feel safer? This is a crucial debate that weve seen play out most recently after 9/11 with the Patriot Act.

The ACLU channels Minority Report to discuss preemptive law enforcement:

Of course, if the police track all of us all the time, there is no doubt that will help to solve some crimes just as it would no doubt help solve some crimes if they could read everybodys e-mail and install cameras in everybodys homes. But in a free society, we dont let the police watch over us just because we might do something wrong. That is not the balance struck by our Constitution and is not the balance we should strike in our policymaking.

Obviously, the plate readers are a valuable tool for the police, and there are an abundance of situations where one could imagine the searchable database of plate captures to be extremely useful. But are those plate readers building up a database thats just a little too full of innocent peoples location information for your liking?

If this kind of thing is to proliferate (both in D.C. and across the country), it is argued that it needs to see the light of day. Basically, society should have time to debate its merits and discuss their concerns. The police should not be able to run out and buy a new technology and put it in place before anybody realizes whats going on, says Jay Stanley of the ACLUs Privacy and Technology Program.

What do you think about the expansion of the plate reader technology? Do the benefits outweigh the privacy and personal freedom concerns? Or is this an example of big brother yielding too much power with the ability to catalog this data without warrants? Let us know in the comments.

Should Businesses Fear iPads & Smartphones?

Posted November 21st, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

You know how when something happens in the world and it immediately hits the Internet in near realtime via Twitter or other social media? Say theres a plane crash. Today, theres a high probability this will make its way to the web pretty quickly, whether that be in the form of text, photos or videos. This is the era we live in .

Well, what if your business secrets could end up on the web just as quickly and as easily? Possibly without your even knowing about it until its too late?

Should businesses fear personal mobile devices in the workplace? Share your thoughts on the subject.

A lot of businesses have secrets that they dont want getting out, whether that be plans, competitive strategy, private conversations, or any number of things. Now consider all of the things you can do with a smartphone or a tablet. There are apps for all kinds of things that have possibly never even crossed your mind, but the obvious features are cameras microphones, coupled with the fact that its just become so common for people to carry these things around.

The likelihood that you will have to deal with some malicious act related to these capabilities is pretty slim, but there are other security issues that can come into play, when businesses allow employees to work from their personal mobile devices.

Paranoid yet?

The reality is that these devices are a part of life now, and a part of business, for that matter. There are so many ways mobile devices can help your business, it would take a lengthy book to really cover it all.

But research shows a lot of businesses are hesitant to implement policies for employees to work remotely via their own personal devices.

SecureData commissioned a survey by Vanson Bourne Omnibus, asking 100 IT managers (in large UK enterprises of more than 1,000 employees) of financial services, manufacturing, retail, distribution/transport and commercial companies about the security risks of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes.

Granted, while this survey is geared toward the enterprise, its a subject that can really apply to any size business.

Heres one of several interesting graphs from the report:

Note the levels of those who appear to have no intention of implementing a policy for employees to work from their personal devices.

Here are some key stats from the survey:

  • The survey revealed that 25 percent of organisations do not have a policy in place for employees to work remotely via their own personal mobile devices (such as a smartphone or a tablet device) and dont think it is a priority at the moment.
  • A further 41 percent dont currently have a policy in place for employees to work remotely via their
    own personal devices, but have said that it is on their agenda to implement.
  • A massive 96 percent of those surveyed selected security risk as one of the top four most important considerations when implementing a policy for employees to work remotely via their own personal mobile device.
  • A total of 49 percent selected security risk as the top concern overall.
  • After security, compliance is the second most important consideration, with 70 percent of respondents ranking it in their top four concerns and 26 percent ranking it the second most important consideration.
  • In total, 69 percent of those surveyed use smartphones and tablet devices not supplied by the company to work remotely at home or whilst on the move (44 percent smartphones and 25 percent tablet devices).
  • A huge 92 percent of employees in the financial sector use their own laptops to work remotely at home or whilst on the move.
  • In total, 37 percent of respondents allow their children (or other members of their household) to use their work device e.g. laptop, smartphone and tablet device.
  • In total 43 percent of respondents state that security concerns would be the main reason for them not allowing children or other household members using their work devices.

There is a great deal more analysis (and as mentioned, more graphs) in the report. You can read it in its entirety here (pdf).

Clearly security is a concern. And frankly, even though workers using their personal devices for work can greatly increase productivity (Think about it. Their smartphones are within reach nearly all the time.), it is still possible that their devices are not secure, or that theyre connecting to WiFi networks that are not secure. Theres also the possibility that their device can get lost or stolen, or simply left behind at a bar. Ask Apple about that one.

Should businesses be worried about employees using their personal smartphones and/or tablets? Tell us what you think.

Windows Phone For a Penny on Thanksgiving Weekend

Posted November 19th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

As many of you already realize, the Friday after Thanksgiving, at least in the United States, is referred to as Black Friday, because thats the day all the retailers get in the black, financial-wise. Its a day of sales and bargains as stores try to drum as much business as they can, and judging by the reaction of the American public, Black Friday is a definite staple of American consumer process, and its here to stay.

With that in mind, it was reported that ATT will be offering the Windows Phone 7 for one cent starting on Black Friday and going until the following Monday, which has become known as Cyber Monday. While some are indeed saying the deals will be available on Black Friday, the actual ATT announcement says the one cent phones will be available on the Saturday after Black Friday:

Saturday, November 26, 12:01 a.m. ET

All Windows 7 and select Android devices, for just $.01

Naturally, theres a company quote, explaining their strategy, which, after reading between the lines, is, we want even more customers, so were going to offer cheap prices for handsets and get them with two-year contracts, as well as minimum messaging plans and data plan purchases:

Were proud to continue to offer incredible value and savings in this economy, said Phil Bienert, senior vice president, ATT.com. We want to show our customers that we appreciate their loyaltyespecially during the holiday season.

Following the quote, the disclaimer appears:

All offers require a two-year service agreement. All smartphone offers require ATT voice and a minimum of $15 per month data plan; quick messaging devices require a minimum $20 per month messaging plan. Some restrictions and other charges may apply.

But, the fact remains, Windows Phones will only cost you one penny, which is as good a reason as any to play the following video of Windows fangirls rapping about the Windows Phone. Its certainly fitting:

Sleek on the outside, Microsoft inside, indeed. If that doesnt inspire you to buy a Windows Phone, nothing will.

Google Music Gets Store, Social Features & More

Posted November 16th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Google held its anticipated Google Music event today, and revealed the new version of Google Music, which is free and available to all (no more invites).

The new release includes a music store, with record label partners: Universal, EMI, Sony, and a bunch of independents:

They will also work to add more partners.

The service is launching with some special and free offerings from the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Busta Rhymes ,Shakira, Pearl Jam and the Dave Matthews Band.

90-second previews are available for all songs.

You can upload up to 20,000 songs to your collection. You can pin songs from your collection for offline listening, which should be good for plane trips.

Other cloud services think you have to pay to listen to music that you own. We dont, said Googles Jamie Rosenberg.

A music section is being added to the Android Market, similar to the Movies and Books offerings. T-Mobile customers will be able to pay for music directly through their T-Mobile phone bills. T-Mobile is giving its customers more free exclusive content from Drake, Maroon 5, Busta Rhymes and other artists.

There are recommendations through staff pick, promotions, and through various content (for example, they showed a profile on a specific record label).

When you buy a song, you can share it with friends via Google+ or by email address (for those that dont use Google+). They can listen to the whole song once for free. If you buy a whole album and do this, they can listen to the whole album once for free.

Google Music has an artist hub for artists to submit music. They can build artist pages, upload original content and set their own prices. Theres a one time $25 fee to create an artist fee. Artists keep 70% of the revenue from sales. There are no annual or per album upload fees. You can release your music as frequently as you see fit. So you can put up demos and live concerts. You can change pricing and details at anytime. Theyre also working with YouTube to be able to sell songs from YouTube videos and channels.

Google also announced that it has hit 200 million Android devices activated worldwide. Theyre adding 550K devices a day.

The offering is available on the web today, and will roll out across Android devices over the next few days.

AdWords, Privacy & Airlines on Twitter

Posted November 14th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Todays infographic round-up explores how Google AdWords work, the differences and similarities between Google and Facebook when it comes to security and privacy, and how different airlines use Twitter.

View more daily infographic round-ups here.

How Google AdWords work:

Infographic by Pulpmedia Online Marketing

Google vs. Facebook (privacy and security):

Infographic by Veracode Application Security

Eezer put out its Airlines Monthly Twitter report:

Google+ For Business Discussed at ad:tech New York

Posted November 10th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Googles Christian Oestlien gave a presentation at ad:tech New York today discussing Google+ for business. Obviously this is a hot topic now that Google+ Pages have been launched.

During his presentation, he introduced the #gplusbiz hashtag for marketers to give feedback about Google+ for business.

He said he thinks were in a similar revolution to the video killed the radio star era, with musicians doing things like Hangouts. This isnt just about music. Its about marketing, he said.

Google wants to do something different and make positive changes to address five issues marketers face, he said. These are:

1. Fragmented marketing
2. Recommendations that lack staying power
3. Comments, not conversations
4. Impersonal messages
5. Limited insights

Google has never had a place on Google where you could connect with all of our customers and directly communicate with them, he said. You can do this with Google+ pages. He references the ability to connect all of your +1s and put these recommendations in a lot more places.

Direct Connect is something that he suggested marketers use to promote themselves. Tell people to go to Google search, and type in + and your brand name, and theyll automatically connect them to your brand page.

Its not about Google. Its about + and your brand and thats it, he said.

Its hard to find recommendations when you need them, he said. 84% of people are online doing research before they make product decisions. If you can unite those two things, I think youve got a really winning combination there. Thats why we introduced the +1 button.

He said the button is already on over a million sites, and is doing five billion impressions a day. And clickthrough rates go up when people can see their friends Faces next to results from that.

To the third point, he says 95% of posts go answered. He again brought up the Hangouts to connect live with customers. Brands have latched onto this really quickly. He mentioned Macys talking to fashion bloggers, and Disney doing one with the Muppets.

He also talked up the Circles concept as a way for brands to address different groups of people to deliver the right message to the right people.

We see two to three times more sharing through circles than we do to open posts to everybody, he said.

On the point of Insights, he said 77% of content around brands is being shared by users, and not brands, and that the brands job is to find the influencers. Thats why we introduced Ripples.

This was launched late last month:

Ripples is really just the beginning. He noted that Google+ for Business is just a week old.

Demand Media: eHow Not Affected By Recent Google Update

Posted November 8th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Demand Media released its Q3 earnings report today, including a 25% revenue increase. Also in the report, it said that eHow.com is a top 20 site in the U.S., and had 71.5 million unique users worldwide in September.

On the earnings call, CEO Richard Rosenblatt ran down the latest on the companys strategy, which of course consists of various content properties, social platforms, advertising and a domain registrar service. The companys sites get 95 million uniques, he said.

ehow was not affected, by Googles most recent freshness-related algorithm, he said.

You may recall that earlier this year, the company launched a content clean-up initiative for eHow. On the last quarters earnings call, the company reported that it had deleted about 300,000 eHow articles in addition to implementing its feedback tools and launching various partnerships.

There was no update on the number of articles deleted as of today, but he did say they are continuing to take more steps to improve content quality, including evolving Demand Studios (the content creation platform), increasing the variety of content (with a wider breadth of topics), new formats (such as photo-driven articles), rigorous fact checking, improved content recommendations, and applying things learned from its other content properties like LiveStrong and Cracked (which tend to have better reputations than eHow) to eHow itself. This means taking select passion areas and tapping different kinds of content formats.

He said theyre reducing the volume of new text content by over 50%. Thats in line with the recent (controversial) reduction in article assignments the company announced.

Rosenblatt also noted that theyre looking at expanding more internationally, adding that in the last two months, they launched eHow en Espanol and eHow Brazil.

The subject of that recent traffic glitch did come up. Rosenblatt reiterated that this was just a temporary technical server-related glitch that shouldnt happen again. Everything was recovered.

The company has also emphasized its growing investment in video, including new YouTube channels, which theyll start launching content for in early 2012.

About 33% of Q3s revenue came from Google.

Design Is Still An Important Aspect of Blogging

Posted November 6th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Yes, a blog is only successful as its content, but if your platform looks like a joke, it really wont matter how good the content your presenting is. In other words, design is still, and will always be, an important aspect of blogging. The web is obviously a visual medium and if you turn your potential audience off with a poorly-designed blog, youre only hurting yourself.

It should be noted that design is more than just the look of the site. The sites feel, that is how it navigates and the overall theme need to be considered as well. These concepts were discussed by Bob Dunn at BlogWorld under the guise of how to keep from losing subscribers, which should give you an idea of how important design is in relation to your blogs success.

One of Dunns first talking points concerned the blogs header. Use graphics. Use images. Use pictures. Use something that speaks to your audience and relays the message of what your blogs trying to accomplish. Most importantly, make your blog header your brand.

Navigation is another aspect to play close attention to. If visitors cant get around your site in an intuitive manner, they be visiting for very long. Some suggestions include drop down menus, although, dont make these too convoluted. The longer it takes for a visitor to find what they are looking for, they wont be a visitor for very long. Use categories in your drop downs, Dunn offers these thoughts, Catagories are like chapters in a box. Tags are like the index.

Tag clouds and bottom-page navigation is something to pay attention to as well. Bottom-page navigation, which can include various links for contact pages, return to top commands, categories, and the homepage, just to name a few. Dunn also suggests the bottom-page navigational links are also search engine-friendly.

In regards to sidebar navigation, its important to avoid redundancy. Be creative and offer your visitors choices of interest, not just links back to the index page.

RSS feeds and contact pages are additional design elements to keep in consideration. Syndicate your content, which gives your audience an easier way to access it. RSS readers are still an important part of the web user cycle, so dont ignore it. The same is true for a contact page. While this may seem like common sense, clearly enough people ignore this aspect that Dunn can still discuss it in his session. If you visitors cant get in touch with you, then they probably wont visitor much anymore, and its a pretty sure bet they wont spend money on products you offer.

Moderate the blog comments, especially if your trying to attract a diverse audience. Visible spam comments in a good blog post take away from the quality of the content at an exponential degree. Captchas help prevent bots from ripping your comment stream apart, and if youre using WordPress, the Akismet plugin is an essential accessory if youre serious about fighting spam comments.

The content of the human comments should be considered as well. If your audience is comfortable with adult language, then you can be a little more liberal. If not, keep the comments at a PG-13, if not PG level.

Dont forget your About You page either. Give the audience something to go on about their author. Share a little bit about yourself and the goal of your blog and the business its attached to. Theres nothing wrong with a straight forward approach. Your audience will appreciate the honesty.

Inspiring Others To React is an Important Key To Successful Viral Content

Posted November 4th, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

Most, if not all content creators want their work to get noticed. Whether its on a viral basis or something more full blown popularity when it comes to the web content, having other people see and respond to your work is about all you can ask for. So what determines viral-worth content? What makes a picture/site page/video become a meme?

This very topic was discussed by Robert Knorpp at the BlogWorld expo, and thanks to his presentation, we learn one of the biggest keys has to do with inspiring others to react. To drive this point home, Knorpp used to examples: Rebecca Black and the Volkswagen/Darth Vader Super Bowl commercial. Both pieces of content inspired a great deal of reaction, granted, not all of it was positive, but the reaction was the key to these videos living a long life, at least in relation to an Internet lifespan.

From Knorpps perspective, the fact that both of these pieces inspired others to react was the key to their extended shelf life. Granted, a great deal of the reaction to Rebecca Blacks content was of the mocking variety, but the fact remains, such reactions are what directly led to her popularity.

Its almost like the Marilyn Manson approach to publicity, that is, no pub is bad pub.

Of course, if the reaction concerns a product you are trying to sell, you dont want the reaction to be in the vein of this is the worst thing ever, which comprised a great deal what Blacks videos had to face. With that in mind, the reaction of the Darth Vader/Volkswagen commercial is what web marketers should be shooting for, but then again, not everyone can get George Lucas approval to use his stuff in their commercials.

To Knorpp, the key isnt necessarily good content, but content that inspires others to react in a creative manner. The key is balance. Dont just make a Rebecca Black style of video to promote a widget being sold, because if people actively hate the item, its doubtful theyll be spending much money on it. That being said, good content is a great starting point, just be aware of the reaction it will inspire.

Of course, because of the nature of viral popularity, the content creators have little to no control over the reaction theyll be greeted with, so be aware of trends, both negative and positive, but at the same time, dont just copy other peoples work. Create your own piece thats worthy of becoming viral, or as Knorpp says, keep your audience in perspective when creating this type of content.

Facebook Comments On Your Site May Show Up in Google Results

Posted November 2nd, 2011 by AWS and filed in RSS Feeds

You know that Facebook comments plugin that lets people comment on your content using their Facebook profiles? Apparently Google is indexing those comments on your site now.

Digital Inspiration illustrates just that (hat tip to Greg Finn). It makes sense, given Googles continued push toward putting more emphasis on who you are, when its delivering search results.

Weve heard that Google is likely to launch a Google+-based comments system similar to the Facebook plugin, and it stands to reason that comments from that would appear in search results as well.

Facebook Comments

Theres been plenty of debate over the pros and cons of even having comments. Even a Google engineer was recently quoted as saying comments could dilute the quality score o fa page by diluting its overall keyword density.

Still, with Google is even putting Google+ comments on search results on its own.

Last week, Facebook launched a subscribe link for its comments plugin, allowing users to follow commenters right from there.

Subscribe from comments

One positive, on the search side of things, about Facebooks comments plugin, is that Facebook users are generally real identities, which can help comments to be less spammy, as the profiles are associated with real people, as opposed to anonymous beings.