SciTechBlog
April 27, 2010

Blippy is more popular after security lapse

Posted: 08:45 AM ET

Maybe all press is good press?

When reports surfaced that the young website Blippy had accidentally leaked the credit card numbers of five of its users online, some tech writers speculated that the startup would not be able to bounce back from the bad PR.

But the website's numbers tell a different story, according to the company's CEO, Ashvin Kumar.

Blippy - a Twitter-style website where people share details about their credit card purchases - had more users on Monday than it did on Friday morning before news of the security mishap hit, Blippy CEO Ashvin Kumar said in a phone interview on Monday.

Kumar declined to cite specific figures, but said some people have left the site because of its security issues; meanwhile, others have joined, ostensibly because of press surrounding the incident, or because of a front page story in the New York Times on Friday morning, which was published before the security troubles came to light, he said.

"We’re certainly net positive, meaning the number of users that signed up was greater than the number who deleted their accounts," he said by phone.

Kumar said Blippy is taking the security breach seriously.

"This is like the worst thing that could happen to us," he said. "This is very bad for us."

He added: "The safety and the security of our users is our number one priority every day. Every day we come to work just obsessing over how to build a better experience for our users, and the security of our users is the most important part of that."

Blippy has been in contact with eight people who may have had sensitive financial information posted in Google search results though Blippy, Kumar said. As of 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Kumar said he was not aware of any affected users who had experienced theft because of the postings.

He also said Blippy's funding was not affected by the security incident. On Friday, the New York Times reported the company recently received an $11 million investment.

Check out this previous blog post for details on new security measures Blippy is implementing.

Filed under: Blippy • Security


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April 26, 2010

Can Blippy rebound after spilling credit card numbers?

Posted: 07:14 PM ET

Blippy wants to get your trust back - but is it too late?

After an incident last week in which at least five Blippy users' credit card numbers were made public "due to a technical oversight," the website's CEO said Monday that he is enacting security measures to keep that from happening again.

Blippy CEO Ashvin Kumar writes in a blog post that he expressed "sincere remorse" to eight of the site's users whose sensitive information may have been compromised.

He plans to keep that from happening again; he says Blippy will:

1. Hire a chief security officer and associated staff that will focus solely on issues relating to information security.
2. Have regular 3rd-party infrastructure & application security audits.
3. Continue to invest in systems to aggressively filter out sensitive information.
4. Control caching of information in search engines.
5. Create a security and privacy center that contains information about what we are doing to protect you.

Kumar's post asks users with security concerns to e-mail suggestions to hello@blippy.com. "We will personally respond to each and every recommendation," he writes.

Blippy is a Twitter-like service that lets people post online about what they're buying. Users can hook up certain credit cards to Blippy.com, and each time they make a purchase, the site will inform the person's followers about what they bought and how much it the person paid for it.

For a half-day in February, the site posted raw data about these purchases, which, in some instances, contained sensitive information like credit card numbers or airline confirmation numbers, the blog post says.

When Blippy noticed the error, it tried to remove the sensitive raw data, but some of it remained in Google's search results until it was discovered Friday by the tech site VentureBeat, the blog says.

Kumar writes that some Blippy users have been deleting credit card information and entire accounts from the site in the wake of the security incident. He did not say how many people have left the site but apologized for the fact that some of the removal requests were not acted on because of the frenzy surrounding the security incident.

He apologized to people who use the site.

"They trusted us with their information, and we are truly disappointed to have let them down," he writes. "While these users reflect a tiny sliver of our user base, any number greater than zero is deeply unacceptable to us. We’ve built Blippy — and will continue to build Blippy — on the foundation of our community and the trust they place in us to create a safe, secure, and fun experience to share purchases."

Since Blippy relies on users handing over financial information to the site, trust is a key component of Blippy's business.

So the real question is this: In light of the security mishap and this response, would you trust Blippy with your credit card info?

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Filed under: Blippy • Security


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Police seize computers from Gizmodo editor

Posted: 05:34 PM ET

The Gizmodo-iPhone saga continues.

Gizmodo, the technology blog that recently published details about Apple's next-generation iPhone after paying $5,000 to get its hands on the device, posted documents today showing that police raided one of its editor's homes.

A search warrant posted by Gizmodo says police on Friday seized computers, cameras, hard drives, business cards and computer servers from the home of Jason Chen, the site's editor who last week published details about Apple's unreleased smartphone.

The warrant, issued by a judge in California's San Mateo County, says police were able to raid Chen's home because they had reason to believe his computers were used to commit a felony. The warrant makes specific reference to the unreleased iPhone 4 and gives police the authority to look for e-mails and other documentation related to the gadget.

Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, published a statement saying the raid was unlawful because of journalistic protections. Chen works from home, so his house should be protected as newsrooms are, the statement says.

In an account posted on Gizmodo, Chen says he returned home from dinner to find police searching his house.

Chen, who apparently has not been arrested or charged with a crime, says his door was kicked down as part of the search.

For background, you can find Gizmodo's account of how the blog acquired the unreleased iPhone here.

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone


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Researcher analyzes dreams through Twitter

Posted: 12:41 PM ET

A researcher in the UK is trying to analyze the world's dreams through Twitter.

Starting today, Twitter users can send synopses of their dreams (in 140 characters or less, of course) to the Twitter handle @dreamshrink. Researcher Jennifer Parker, with the University of West England in Bristol, will choose 10 of the most interesting dreams and will parse out their meaning through the micro-blogging service by the end of this week.

The dream analysis will be posted on Friday.

The project is intended to help Parker expand her research on dreams worldwide, according to the BBC. The dream posts are also tied to the release of James Cameron's "Avatar" for purchase on the Internet in the UK. Cameron is said to have thought up the idea for that blockbuster movie in a dream in the 1990s.

The British video site blinkbox.com is behind the promotion.

The film is also available elsewhere for download, according to CNET:

Vudu and Sony's PlayStation Network are the only major streaming/download services to carry the HD version at launch (sorry, Amazon VOD and QRIOCITY), so if you want to watch "Avatar" in HD at home, you'll have to buy one of those two futuristic files or risk being branded a Luddite to actually get the physical Blu-ray.

Parker told the website bristol247.com that dream analysis on Twitter is a "ground breaking opportunity."

“I am already planning to use data as the basis for a future book that will analyze the efficacy of Twitter as a means for data collection and hopefully present this information in a peer reviewed journal," she told the site. "This type of media is going to be essential in moving dream research forwards using state of the art technologies.”

Can you fit a dream in 140 characters? Do you feel comfortable writing about your subconscious in public on the Internet? Let us know in the comments section below.

[via Mashable]

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Filed under: Twitter


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April 23, 2010

Geek Out!: The 'Fett' is back!

Posted: 04:14 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

With the 30th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back” only weeks away [May 21, mark your calendars!] I was happy to see that “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” [on Cartoon Network, which, like CNN, is a division of TimeWarner] was about to start a three-episode season finale arc this Friday called “Death Trap.”

Why? Because one of the Star Wars universe's biggest fan favorites - Boba Fett! - will make his first appearance.

I, like many Star Wars fans, love “Empire,” and believe it's the best in the original trilogy. And, by far, my favorite character from the movie is "The Fett."

To be completely accurate, Boba Fett was first introduced to us in an animated section of the ill-fated 1978 “Star Wars Holliday Special” [You know ... the one that inspired Lucas to say he would like to "... track down every copy of that show and smash it."] .

Also, Kenner released a Boba Fett action figure before "The Empire Strikes Back" was released.

And if we want to get *really* deep into Star Wars geekdom, I'll point out that his first "public" appearance was at the San Anselmo's County Fair parade on September 24, 1978, in a parade alongside Darth Vader.

But when the largest group of us saw him first was on the bridge of the Star Destroyer being briefed by Darth Vader.

We loved him from the get-go.

He wore that cool Mandalorian armor [not that we knew what it was called when we saw the movie]. He hid what he looked like. He said only 29 words in the entire original trilogy.

His ship, Slave I, was so whacked-out looking. He was just ... cool.

It was even cooler that he was hunting down the heroes of the movie and we were never 100 percent sure of his motives. Was he just in it for the money? Or did he have another reason he wanted to get his hands on Han Solo?

For me, he was the second coolest of all the characters we meet in the Star Wars universe [I'm a Vader guy]. He is also one of the characters that we meet in the Star Wars universe that gets their back-story fully fleshed out later in the movies (Ep II, Ep III, Ep V, Ep VI), video games and comics books.

I can't think of a part of the Star Wars world that does not have at least a mention of him.

Are you a Boba Fett Fan? What went through your mind when you first saw him in the Star Wars universe? Let us know in the comments.

Also, what are your favorite “Empire Strikes Back” memories, especially if you saw the movie when it first came out? Share your story and photos on CNN iReport.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture • television


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'Geek Out!': Madden Curse vs. Bayou voodoo

Posted: 12:12 PM ET
Is that fear in his eyes?
Is that fear in his eyes?

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees will be featured on the cover of "Madden 11" (EA Sports) – an honor that should make him feel proud and scared at the same time.

Brees, who lead the Saints to a Super Bowl victory last year, was selected by fans to grace the cover of the premier football video game. Football players have been on the games's box art since the 1999-2000 season, but this was the first time that fans could determine who would be featured.

This, however, may have been an attempt to sabotage Brees by fans of other teams. You see, many players who have appeared on the cover have been beset by injury, extremely poor play, or decided to retire - giving birth to the so-called "Madden Curse."

The first cover to feature a player was for "Madden 2000." Detroit Lions star running back Barry Sanders was to appear with John Madden on the box, but Sanders abruptly retired before the beginning of the season.

Electronic Arts rushed out a new box with a new player, Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levins, who was bothered by a bad knee all season and then demoted to a reserve role.

In 2002, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Dante Culpepper struggled throughout the season before injuring his knee and missing the last 5 games of the year.

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk was honored in 2003, but a bad ankle held him under 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and the Rams missed the playoffs.

Michael Vick, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons in 2004, was struck quickly by the "curse." One day after the game hit the shelves, Vick broke his leg in a pre-season game and only played 5 games that year.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb openly taunted the curse after his selection for the "Madden 2006" cover. It was perhaps not a wise choice - McNabb suffered a sports hernia during the first game of the year, struggled through the pain, then ended up tearing ligaments in his knee and missing the last seven games of the year.

Three weeks into the 2006-2007 season, 2007 cover boy Shaun Alexander, running back for the Seattle Seahawks, broke his foot and missed 6 games.

For the "Madden 2009" cover, EA chose Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. However, the Curse hit twice – once when Favre left the Packers before the season started and signed with the New York Jets, and then later when Favre suffered a torn biceps injury during the season.

Two athletes were featured on the "Madden 2010" cover and "The Curse" hit each in due time.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu sprained knee ligaments in the first game of the season, rested, returned and sprained different knee ligaments which forced more missed regular season games.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was able to play all the games in the regular season, but missed out on the playoffs after injuring his ribs.

Some, of course, say the physical nature of football takes its toll on all players and there is no curse. Others take the curse very seriously.

San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson was reportedly to be selected for the 2008 cover, but Chargers fans pleaded with EA to change their mind.

Tomlinson did not appear on the cover, but it was reported that he turned down the honor due to contract negotiations and not the curse.

It may boil down to a battle between the Madden Curse and bayou voodoo to keep Brees healthy and successful for New Orleans this season. For his part, Brees seems unconcerned, saying on Twitter, "Destiny is more powerful than a curse."

Which sounds vaguely like a dark-helmeted figure from geek lore. And we all know how that turned out.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Geek Out! • video games


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April 22, 2010

Guy who lost 4G iPhone offered trip to Germany

Posted: 06:03 PM ET

It's probably been a tough week for Apple engineer Gray Powell, what with him reportedly losing a next-generation iPhone in a bar, only to see photos of the super-secret device later spashed across the internet.

Tech blogs say Powell left the prototype, which was disguised as an iPhone 3GS, behind at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a German beer hall in Redwood City, California. The iPhone was later sold to tech blog Gizmodo for $5,000.

There's been rampant speculation that Powell is in trouble with Apple for losing the phone. But Lufthansa, the German airline, is offering to help the 27-year-old drown his sorrows.

The airline’s director of marketing and customer relations has written an open letter to Powell, dated April 21 and posted on the internet.

“I recently read in the news that you lost a very special phone at a German beer bar in California," writes Nicola C. Lange. "We all know how frustrating it can be to lose personal belongings … at Lufthansa we also noted with great interest your passion for German beer and culture."

Lange goes on to say, "[Lufthansa] would like to offer you complimentary Business Class transportation to Munich where you can literally pick up where you left off.”

The letter was attached to a tweet posted on the airline’s Twitter page Thursday. It said, “If you can help us get in touch with Gray Powell, we’d like to fly him to Munich.”

As marketing gimmicks go, this is a pretty good one.

There was no word as of late Thursday on whether Powell had accepted the offer. But if he does, maybe he should leave his iPhone at home.

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone


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Satellites to issue speeding tickets from space

Posted: 03:14 PM ET

From our content partner Mashable:

UK drivers had better stay under that speed limit, because the traffic authorities are watching… from outer space. According to The Telegraph, an American company called PIPS Technology has developed a system that uses two cameras on the ground and one mounted on a satellite in orbit to catch speeders.

The system - called “SpeedSpike” - figures your average speed between two points, captures an image of your license plate and reports you if you’re going faster than the law allows. Oh, and if you’re hoping Great Britain’s notoriously gray weather will save you, you’re out of luck; the system works even when it’s cloudy or dark.

SpeedSpike will be tested in two places: the London borough of Southwark, and along the A374 between Torpoint and Anthony in Cornwall. If the trial is successful, the tech may be used to enforce speed limits near schools, to reduce the need for speed bumps, and for “main road enforcement for traffic reduction.”

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Filed under: Space


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The mobile phone that breathes

Posted: 12:16 PM ET

Researchers at Intel Labs in Berkeley, California, have designed a prototype mobile phone that slurps up air and spits out pollution measurements.

The researchers eventually hope to make everyone who carries a phone into a mobile air quality monitor, to supplement the 4,000 stationary monitors used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state partners.

It's the idea of "citizen science" taken to a new extreme.

The pollution readings would be useful for several reasons, said Allison Woodruff, a research scientist at Intel.

First, they would give regulators a sense of air quality trouble spots that might be missed by government monitors, which tend to have significant distances between them that millions of walking monitors could fill.

The moving air sensors also would enable a new level of social science, she said. If you wanted to learn more about asthma, for instance, you could look at the air quality experienced by asthma sufferers and see if that had any impact.

Currently, such evaluations aren't really possible, she said.

The measurements would be tied to a person's GPS location to create a real-time map of air quality readings. That info could be available to everyone on an app or a website, the researchers said.

The prototype air-quality phone developed by Woodruff and Alan Mainwaring is a bit clunky for now. It has big holes in its case, to let air in.  The sensors that pick up carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen oxide aren't small enough to let the phone fit in most pockets. That might be just as well, since the researchers aren't sure what would happen to the pollution measurements if a phone went inside a purse or pocket.

Woodruff said it might be equipped with light sensors that would tell it to stop taking and uploading measurements if it was inside a pocket.

But, they said, air quality sensors are getting better and smaller. They are confident the kinks will get worked out, and that this idea will make the air healthier. They hope their pollution-tracking phone will become reality in a matter of years.

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Filed under: environment • mobile phones


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Will Facebook dominate the future web?

Posted: 09:29 AM ET

It's hard to make sense of Facebook's announcement from Wednesday's f8 conference without an analogy.

Here's one of my favorites:

"I think it's going to become the plumbing of the web," Alain Chuard, co-founder of Wildfire, a promotions app and website that piggybacks on Facebook's infrastructure, told me at the conference.

Others skip the infrastructure references and go straight to tech war:

"Facebook today launched its latest missile in the war against Google for the trophy of world wide web domination," wrote Jennifer Leggio at the blog ZDNet.

I wrote that Facebook is trying to turn the web into a big cocktail party.

Pick your metaphor. But the meaning is basically the same: As Facebook stretches its tentacles into websites other than its own, adding social and friend-making functionality along the way, the company is positioning itself not just as a website but as an essential piece of the Internet itself. It's infrastructure. It's piping. In this vision, it's the social lubricant that makes the Internet chatter.

That puts the site in obvious competition with Google and others who are trying to organize the Internet and make it more socially engaging.

Some say a Facebook-led social web will make online browsing more convenient.

As the entire internet becomes more tied with a person's social network, you'll get more recommendations that can help you find web pages you'll enjoy. Plus, Facebook is making it ever-easier to share with friends. All you have to do now is click a button that says "like."

Others say the Facebook model gives one company too much power.

"They're holding all of our data. We have to trust them not to sell it to the world," said Ricky S., an app developer who works with Facebook and didn't want his full name used because he wasn't authorized to speak for his company.

And what does Facebook say about it's ambitions?

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his goal is to make the web a better place. If his site happens to make more money by selling ads on Facebook.com, then so-be it.

In closing his keynote address at f8, he used a metaphor of his own, comparing the future web, as led by Facebook's social infrastructure, to heaven.

"There's an old saying that says that when you go to heaven, all of your friends are there and everything is just the way you want it to be," he said.

"So, together let's make a world that's that good."

What do you think? Is Facebook on the way to becoming the web's plumbing? Can it compete with Google? Should any private company have so much power?

Let us know with comments on this post.

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Filed under: Facebook


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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