Four trends to keep a nervous eye on in the new year.
Traitorware: This is the new catch-all term for any kind of software or device or app that changes your computer or phone without your knowledge or permission. There was a notorious example a few years ago, with the Celine Dion CD that installed copy protection software on your computer, and inadvertently disabled a lot of CD players in the process. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is particularly vocal about a new patent by Apple that could be used to track someone using an iPhone – it could take photos, record voices, even track heartbeats
And, that said, there are some traitorware that have no benefit to the consumer and all for the installer – like a tracking cookie that records which websites you visit and secretly sends that to a marketing company.
Brandjacking: Not the most melodious name in history, but it’s becoming much more important these days. Companies are increasingly aware that one person with a blog, or a Twitter account, or a YouTube video can hurt a company’s reputation if that blog or video goes viral. That’s called brandjacking – hijacking a brand, essentially. Some companies are trying to preempt brandjackers by buying up website names that would reflect badly on them. At the end of last year Bank of America was reportedly buying up websites along these lines.
North African governments blocking social media sites: Speaking of watching for negative information, there have been several reports of authorities in Tunisia and Algeria trying to block social media to hinder opposition movements. We remember the influence, or the alleged influence, that Twitter had in the protests in Iran – well, governments remember that, and so the reports suggest that these countries are shutting down access to Facebook and Twitter, or hacking into the accounts of prominent protesters and taking down information they don’t like.
Is it a national internet ID? CNet has been reporting that the Obama administration, and specifically the Commerce Department, to set up some kind of cybersecurity ID mechanism where individuals who are online can prove that they are who they say they are, like when they’re buying something through an online store. It’s still so vague that we don’t really know what that really means, but there’s concern in privacy circles that this is going to be an online version of the national ID card. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says this is not going to be a government-controlled system, that it’s to enhance privacy and protect our identities, but just like with the iPhone debate, it’s complicated. Do you want to come up with a bazillion passwords when you could just have one identity across the web? If so, is it worth having that identity be part of a government-sanctioned online security system that could conceivably track you?
Wrapping it up with a creepy ringtone: Is there nothing awesome left in the world then? There is nothing awesome left, no. But if you need a viral video to watch, we’ve got one: the King of Spain walked into an event of some kind and his cell phone went off. His ringtone creeped everybody out: