SciTechBlog
May 26, 2010

Fake BP Twitter feed mocks company over oil spill

Posted: 11:22 AM ET


Wow ... did a BP representative really say that?

Well, no. But a satirical Twitter feed, which at first glance looks like an official BP account, is serving up a scathing daily parody of the company's efforts to clean up the Gulf Coast oil spill.

A quick read of @bpglobalpr, a Twitter account created last week, should reveal to most users that this is no BP-sanctioned public relations campaign.

"Please help us with rebranding. We're not calling it an 'oil spill' anymore, now it's a 'Southern Fun Party' #bpcares," read a post from late Tuesday.

"Funny, no one has thanked us for seasons 3-15 of Treme yet. #bpcares," read another, referencing the HBO series set in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The feed definitely requires an appreciation of gallows humor. Written in the voice of a clueless oil-company spokesperson, it often makes light of the spill.

From Monday: "The ocean looks just a bit slimmer today. Dressing it in black really did the trick! #bpcares."

And from last week: "Please do NOT take or clean any oil you find on the beach. That is the property of British Petroleum and we WILL sue you."

The feed's popularity is steadily climbing, with more than 38,000 followers as of Wedneday morning. By contrast, the actual BP America Twitter feed had about 5,600.

Aside from tweaking the company whose offshore oil rig exploded, dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, there may be an altruistic motive behind the Twitter account.

The feed repeatedly links to a site selling anti-BP T-shirts and claiming the proceeds will be donated to the Gulf Restoration Network, a group that works to protect and restore the Gulf region.

Whoever is behind the Twitter account did not respond to a message requesting comment for this post. A spokesman for BP said the company is aware of the Twitter feed, saying that anyone who sees it almost surely will know it's a spoof.

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Filed under: Twitter


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May 21, 2010

Politician tries to out anonymous Twitter critics

Posted: 11:42 AM ET

Pennsylvania's attorney general recently subpoenaed Twitter for the real names of two anonymous bloggers who have been criticizing him. Twitter generally doesn't give out user identities, according to a statement issued to the blog TechCrunch. And the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania now says it will represent the online critics.

"Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says in a prepared statement. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously."

The anonymous Twitter users in question - @CasablancaPA and @bfbarbie - continue to use their feeds to criticize Tom Corbett, the current Pennsylvania AG, who also is running for the governorship in that state as a Republican.

According to the subpoena, as posted by TechCrunch, Corbett wants the Twitter users' names, addresses, contact info, IP addresses. This isn't the first time a politician or celebrity has tried to out anonymous dissenters online. Last year, the New York Supreme Court ordered Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, to release the identity of an anonymous online writer who had been ranting about former cover girl Liskula Cohen.

The identity fight in Pennsylvania also comes as the Web in general is becoming less anonymous. Facebook is leading the charge against anonymity, as it encourages its 400 million users to use their Facebook profiles - with photos, real names and background information - to comment on online news stories, music, events and other web content.

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Filed under: 4chan • anonymity • Facebook • Internet • Twitter


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April 27, 2010

Report: Hugo Chavez is joining Twitter

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

Of course celebrities like singer Britney Spears are on Twitter.

And it even seems expected at this point that Barack Obama, arguably the techiest president in U.S. history, would have a presence on the micro-blogging service.

But Hugo Chavez?

According to Bloomberg, the Venezuelan president - one of the most controversial world leaders– is planning to join Twitter.

Not only that. He wants to dominate it.

“Comandante Chavez is going to open his Twitter account soon to wage the battle online,” Diosdado Cabello, head of the country’s telecommunications regulator, said on state television, according to the news organization.

“I’m sure he’ll break records for numbers of followers.”

Chavez said in March that he plans to use the web to interact with critics, according to Sky News.

"I'm going to have my online trench from the palace to wage the battle. I'll provide information and even respond to my enemies," Chavez said, according to that news site.

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Filed under: Twitter


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April 26, 2010

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 14, 2010

Google unveils 'replay' search feature

Posted: 03:08 PM ET

It's already easy to find relevant Twitter updates in Google real-time search results. Now, thanks to a new Google feature, you can see what people were tweeting about a topic last week or last month.

Google on Wednesday introduced a “replay” feature that allows users to search tweets posted at any given point in time - down to the minute.

Let’s say you're curious to see what people were tweeting about Kathryn Bigelow the night of the Academy Awards on March 7. After you type her name into Google's search field, select “Show Options” on the results page and then click “Updates.”

A timeline will appear above the results, allowing you to zero in on tweets by the hour or minute. They spiked late in the Oscars telecast, when excited viewers began tweeting about Bigelow becoming the first woman to win Best Director.

Here's a preview of what the new feature looks like.

“By replaying tweets, you can explore any topic that people have discussed on Twitter,” wrote Dylan Casey, Google product manager for real-time search, in a post on Google's blog.

For now, users can explore tweets going back about two months - to February 11 - although Google promises that you’ll soon be able to search as far back as the very first tweet on March 21, 2006.

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Filed under: Google • Twitter


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Twitter claims 105 million registered users

Posted: 01:25 PM ET

Twitter has more than 105 million registered users, co-founder Biz Stone said Wednesday.

The announcement, at the micro-blogging site's Chirp conference for developers, marked the first time Twitter has announced it number of accounts. The tally - 105,779,710, to be exact - is significantly more than outside analysts had estimated.

The company also says it's adding 300,000 accounts per day, with much of its growth coming outside the United States.

The number, of course, doesn't address how many of those accounts are active. It comes after months of outside speculation that the number of monthly visitor to Twitter's main page had peaked - after astronomical growth in early 2009.

Web analytics company Compete estimates that Twitter's number of unique monthly visitors has stayed roughly the same since June 2009.

But on Wednesday, Stone said most of Twitter's daily traffic comes from third-party applications, which often don't require a stop by the site's main page (which nevertheless got a makeover last week).

As Mashable's Adam Ostrow notes in a blog post from the conference, the number still pales in comparison to social-networking giant Facebook's more than 400 million registered accounts.

But it's closer than most observers would have guessed, which bodes well for Twitter a day after it rolled out an advertising plan that it hopes will turn the much-talked-about site into an actual moneymaker.

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Filed under: Internet • Twitter


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April 9, 2010

Twitter rolls out official BlackBerry app

Posted: 04:35 PM ET

Twitter rolled out its official app for the BlackBerry on Friday, adding a specialized version of the micro-blogging site to the most popular smartphone platform.

According to Twitter's official blog and the BlackBerry Web site, the Twitter app features include:

_ Real-time "push" notifications for direct messages on Twitter
_ Camera and photo integration
_ Notifications when you're Twitter user name is mentioned
_ Integration that links to Twitter when you get a text message or e-mail that includes someone's user name

"Working closely with [BlackBerry maker] RIM to deliver the official Twitter app has been a great experience and we are looking forward to bringing more and more Twitter innovation to BlackBerry," Twitter's blog post said.

The free Twitter app was made available Friday on BlackBerry's Web site.

Apple's iPhone and Google's Android phones seem to get all the buzz, but BlackBerry is still hands down the leader in the smartphone field. But do people think of them more as work tools than social-networking devices?

Will you be tweeting on your BlackBerry?

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Filed under: smartphones • Twitter


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March 26, 2010

A new look at spam, by the numbers

Posted: 12:35 PM ET

Some news from Twitter this week could leave you with the impression that spam is becoming a dinosaur of the Web.

As of February, slightly less than 1 percent of posts on the micro-blogging site were unwanted spam, according to a blog written by Twitter's chief scientist, Abdur Chowdhury.

Not too long ago, spam was more rampant on the site, according to an info-graphic published by Twitter. In August of 2009, for example, nearly 11 percent of all Twitter posts were spam.

So, maybe this means we're getting past the era of computer-generated messages and malicious and trickster ads?

A look at the broader picture reveals we're not even close.

A whopping 9 out of 10 e-mail messages are still unsolicited, according to this helpful chart (.pdf) published by New Scientist.

The chart shows a number of fluctuations over the years, but an overall increase in spam since late 2006, when hackers started developing "botnets" of "zombie computers" that can send spam and malicious software out for them.

In June 2009, the average e-mail account received more than 100 spam messages per day, according to the chart.

A recent 3,000-person e-mail survey found nearly half of people continue to click on these messages, even if they know spam is a problem, The Toronto Sun reports.

And there's some evidence that social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, are "easy targets" for spammers. Sophos' "Security Threat Report: 2010," released in January, says online social networks are becoming a bigger part of Internet users' lives, so it's only natural that they would be big targets for spammers, too. (via CNET)

"Spam is now common on social networking sites, and social engineering—trying to trick users to reveal vital data, or persuading people to visit dangerous web links—is on the rise," the report says. (full report: PDF)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a Web page with tips for how people can reduce and avoid spam, but the agency acknowledges that "you will probably not be able to eliminate it." Among its more-helpful tips: Create an extra e-mail account that you use to sign up for mailing lists and register for Web sites; and don't let your e-mail account automatically download image attachments for you, since those can identify your account to spammers.

Security experts also recommend people create new passwords for all of the Web sites they register with.

Twitter has posted a number of tips for reducing spam on its site, too. Among them: Report spam messages by sending a note to the Twitter's @spam account; or select the "report for spam" option from a drop-down menu on a problematic Twitter account's page (the menu is hidden behind an icon that looks like a gear wheel).

Do you get more spam than you used to? What's the funniest spam message you've ever gotten?

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Filed under: Security • spam • technology • Twitter


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Man suspected of cracking Twitter accounts: 'I'm a nice hacker'

Posted: 10:42 AM ET

The man accused of cracking a Twitter database and peeking at the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama and Britney Spears said this week that he didn't mean harm, according to a French TV station.

He aimed to prove Twitter is vulnerable to attack.

"I'm not a hacker, or rather, I'm a nice hacker," he said, according to the France 3 station. (via AP)

The man, who is known by the nickname "Hacker Croll," is accused of stealing confidential documents from Twitter employees, and of looking in on the Twitter accounts of the U.S. president and celebrities, according to news reports. He was arrested on Tuesday by French police in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. If convicted of hacking into a database, he could face up to two years in jail, according to the Agence-France Presse news agency.

The ordeal caught the public's attention in July, when a man calling himself Hacker Croll sent confidential documents from Twitter employees to the technology blog TechCrunch, which decided to publish some of the stolen documents.

What do you think about Hacker Croll's statement? Is there anything laudable about breaking into a system to uncover its faults? Can a person actually be a "good hacker?" Let us know in the comments section.

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Filed under: hacking • piracy • Security • technology • Twitter


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March 16, 2010

The 5 cheesiest tech slogans?

Posted: 11:21 AM ET

At a keynote address on Monday, Twitter CEO Evan Williams said the aim of his company is this:

"Be a force for good."

TechCrunch writer Michael Arrington, who reported this quote from the South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, said the statement made him cringe.

Any company that's out for profit cannot claim simply to "be a force for good," he writes:

... it’s basically impossible to balance a profit motive with a goodness motive. And in fact the nice thing about capitalism is that everyone acting in their own self interest tends to be good for everyone else, too, if appropriate government forces are put in place to stop monopolies, pollution, etc. Being a socialist is a great way to get laid in college but it’s no way to run a society.

With that in mind, here's our list of the five cheesiest - or otherwise bizarre - tech company mottos, slogans, mission statements and unofficial tags. Can any profit-seeking company claim to be in it for the betterment of humanity? (Ben & Jerry's ice cream tried until investors stepped in, as NPR explains). And do they have to wear their ideals on their sleeve in such bumper-sticker fashion?

Let us know what you think in the comments section. And, without further ado, here's the list:

Google: "Don't be evil." ("Star Wars," anyone?)

Apple: "Think different." (Like the rest of us? Part of an older ad campaign.)

Microsoft: "Your potential. Our passion." (Well, at least they're passionate).

Facebook: "To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." (A little long-winded for a mission statement, and doesn't include any money-making goals).

And, of course, Twitter: "Be a force for good." (See above).

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Filed under: Facebook • Google • Internet • Twitter


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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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