Venezuela Info, Google Play, Vivaldi, More: Monday Afternoon Buzz, May 2, 2016


In development: a new open data project for government information in Venezuela. “In Venezuela, a country where restrictions on the press are rampant and access to public information is not guaranteed by law, being informed about government decisions can be problematic. That is why the Press and Society Institute (IPYS for its acronym in Spanish) Venezuela, with Transparencia Venezuela, is launching Vendata, an online platform used to easily display information contained in the ‘Gaceta Oficial,’ the official government bulletin.”


Google Play will now warn about apps with ads. “The ‘contains ads’ designation appears in the store right beside an app’s icon, alongside the spot where Google Play lets users know if an app contains in-app purchases. The company had warned developers last year that the move was coming; a sharp-eyed Reddit user noticed this week that the policy had finally gone into effect.”


Ars Technica has a review of the new browser, Vivaldi. “Judging by the user interface design and disappearing features, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari have very little regard for the intelligence of their users. If you work with the Web the way these options want you to, consider yourself lucky. On the other hand, if you find yourself installing a dozen or more extensions just to bend the browser to your will, you might want to check out the newcomer to the browser scene—Vivaldi. This powerful, customizable Web browser doesn’t try to dictate how you browse the Web… and it just hit version 1.0.”


If you have any interest in self-driving cars at all, check out this enormous article from Reuters: How Google is shaping the rules of the driverless road. “The battle to dominate the next generation of cars hinges in part on autonomous driving technology. Google has built a leading position – thanks not just to its tech expertise, but also its persistent lobbying.”

Speaking of enormous articles, Bloomberg breaks down Marissa Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo. The formatting for this article is horrible! “Think of Yahoo as a traditional enterprise (with all the assets just mentioned) stuck on top of a small safe deposit box. Inside that box: a huge pile of cash, plus stock certificates of two Asian tech companies. Yahoo owns about 15 percent of Internet giant Alibaba, a stake that would trade on the open market for roughly $29 billion. It also has a 36 percent holding (worth about $9 billion) in Yahoo! Japan, a publicly traded company based in Tokyo that long ago abandoned Yahoo’s search technology for Google’s. If you add up the cash and the stocks, you’ll notice that the value of the contents of the box totals $43 billion. That’s $8 billion more than the market capitalization of Yahoo, $35 billion, which includes the company and the stuff in that imaginary box. The implication: Everything you think of as Yahoo—apps, websites, employees, computers, buildings—has a negative value.”


It reads like the premise for a science-fiction novel: an electric utility hit by ransomware. “While the electricity and water supply are still running in Lansing, MI, Lansing [Board of Water & Light] personnel don’t have access to their corporate server computer files and their telephone system. The attack caused the BWL’s files on its corporate server to become encrypted and some criminal is apparently demanding money for the key to unlock the system.”

The FBI is warning that ransomware is on the rise. Yeah, no kidding. “Ransomware has been around for a few years, but during 2015, law enforcement saw an increase in these types of cyber attacks, particularly against organizations because the payoffs are higher. And if the first three months of this year are any indication, the number of ransomware incidents—and the ensuing damage they cause—will grow even more in 2016 if individuals and organizations don’t prepare for these attacks in advance.”

Of course, it’s kind of hard to avoid malware if your own professional association is mailing it to you. “The American Dental Association (ADA) says it may have inadvertently mailed malware-laced USB thumb drives to thousands of dental offices nationwide. The problem first came to light in a post on the DSL Reports Security Forum. DSLR member ‘Mike’ from Pittsburgh got curious about the integrity of a USB drive that the ADA mailed to members to share updated ‘dental procedure codes’ — codes that dental offices use to track procedures for billing and insurance purposes.”


Quick but thoughtful read, especially if you’re into municipalities, infrastructure, or city planning: Can Google’s ‘Popular Times’ Feature Change The Way We Plan? “These days we hear a lot about the potential benefits to planning of ‘big data’. With most people walking, cycling, taking transit or driving around with a smartphone in their pocket, people interested in planning cities can get quite excited about the potential information that becomes available: where are people going; when are people going; how are people going?”

What do your social media posts reveal about your health? “Director Raina Merchant and her team are investigating how people’s social media language on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp can be used to assess and their health and predict diseases. The conditions they are looking at are some of the main culprits for premature death and disability (not to mention skyrocketing health care costs) in America, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic lung problems, depression and drug abuse.” Good afternoon, Internet…

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