All posts in “Data”

Nearly 200 million voters exposed in GOP data leak, proving all political parties are susceptible to being hacked

Image: Shutterstock / Barbara Kalbfleisch

Registered U.S. voters dating back more than a decade have been exposed in what’s believed to be the largest leak of voter information in history.

A data analytics contractor hired by the Republican National Committee (RNC) left databases containing information about 198 million potential voters open to the public for download without a password, according to a ZDNet report.

The leak helps prove that any political party is susceptible to cybersecurity vulnerabilities, despite the GOP’s insistence that it ran a more secure 2016 presidential campaign than the rival Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The exposed databases belonged to the contractor Deep Root Analytics and contained about 25 terabytes on an Amazon S3 storage server that could be viewed without requiring a user to be logged in. In theory, this means that anyone knowing where to look could have viewed, downloaded, and have potentially used the information for malicious purposes.

The RNC worked closely with Deep Root Analytics during the 2016 election and paid the company $983,000 between January 2015 and November 2016, according to an AdAge report.

The RNC’s remarkably bad security was first discovered by researcher Chris Vickery of the security firm UpGuard. The security firm responsibly disclosed the vulnerability to the RNC, and the server was secured last week prior to making the news public today.

This vast exposure of voter information highlights the growing risk of data-driven campaigning used by both the DNC and RNC. The data in this case contained models about voters positions on different issues, including how likely it is that they voted for Obama in 2012 and whether they were likely to agree with Trump’s “America First” foreign policy talking point. 

The leak has essentially exposed more than half of the U.S. population, trouncing the second-largest leak of voter information, the 2016 exposure of 93.4 million Mexican voters.

Perhaps the worst part about all of this is there’s very little voters can do to ensure their information is stored privately and securely. Mashable has reached out to the RNC and Deep Root Analytics for comment, and will update when we hear back.

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IBM turns to artificial intelligence to solve poverty, hunger, and illiteracy

IBM is channeling its science and tech expertise into tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.

On Wednesday, the tech giant announced the launch of Science for Social Good, a new program that partners IBM researchers with postdoctoral academic fellows and nonprofits to take on societal issues through data.

With the new initiative, IBM announced 12 projects planned for 2017. Each Science for Social Good project aligns with one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations’ blueprint to address some of the globe’s biggest inequalities and threats by the year 2030.

Science for Social Good covers issues like improving emergency aid and combating the opioid crisis, and the projects all use data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence to develop solutions.  

“The projects chosen for this year’s Social Good program cover predicting new diseases, alleviating illiteracy and hunger, and helping people out of poverty.”

One project is called Emergency Food Best Practice: The Digital Experience, which plans to compile emergency food distribution best practices and share it with nonprofits through an interactive digital tool. IBM will partner with nonprofit St. John’s Bread & Life to develop the tool based on the nonprofit’s distribution model, which helps the organization seamlessly serve more than 2,500 meals each day in New York City.

Another project is called Overcoming Illiteracy, which will use AI to allow low-literate adults to “navigate the information-dense world with confidence.” The project hopes to decode complex texts (such as product descriptions and manuals),  extract the basic message, and present it to users through visuals and simple spoken messages. While this project doesn’t solve the global literacy crisis, it will allow low-literate adults engage with text independently. 

“The projects chosen for this year’s Social Good program cover an important range of topics — including predicting new diseases, promoting innovation, alleviating illiteracy and hunger, and helping people out of poverty,” Arvind Krishna, director of IBM Research, said in a statement. “What unifies them all is that, at the core, they necessitate major advances in science and technology. Armed with the expertise of our partners and drawing on a wealth of new data, tools and experiences, Science for Social Good can offer new solutions to the problems our society is facing.”

IBM hopes the initiative will build off the success of the company’s noted supercomputer, Watson, which has helped address health care, education, and environmental challenges since its development. 

Six pilot projects were conducted in 2016 in order to develop the Science for Social Good initiative. These projects covered a broad range of topics, such as health care, humanitarian relief, and global innovation. 

A particularly successful project used machine learning techniques to better understand the spread of the Zika virus. Using complex data, the team developed a predictive model that identified which primate species should be targeted for Zika virus surveillance and management. The results of the project are now leading new testing in the field to help prevent the spread of the disease.

To learn more about current and past projects, visit the Science for Social Good website.

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Google just launched a GIF maker to make your data look better

Google wants to help make your research look better.

To help journalists share their research and tell stories in a more visual and appealing way, Google just launched Data GIF Maker, a data visualization creator.

“Data visualizations are an essential storytelling tool in journalism, and though they are often intricate, they don’t have to be complex,” Google wrote in their announcement. ” In fact, with the growth of mobile devices as a primary method of consuming news, data visualizations can be simple images formatted for the device they appear on.”

The project came out of Google’s News Lab, an initiative to support journalists and storytelling. The lab also created the popular Google Trends project.

To make a data gif with Google’s new tool, simply add two terms, their titles, and an additional description (for our test, we used data from a 2014 study about how people pronounce internet terms): 

Image: google

The tool will then generate a handy gif like this:

Image: google

Right now the tool is very basic and currently supports comparisons between only two data points, meaning it’s not the best fit for complex data and comparisons. But for simple visualizations, Data Gif Maker is extremely easy to use. By adding some color and animation, journalists can make the research they’re trying to share a lot easier and more pleasant to consume, rather than listing the same information in text.

The tool is free to use and you can try it here.

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This app’s ‘travel mode’ could keep your data safe from border guards

Over the course of the past few years, international travel has taken on an extra level of invasiveness as U.S. officials demand travelers unlock phones or hand over social media passwords in order to enter the country. Many travelers, even U.S. citizens, feel compelled to comply with these requests — sadly accepting that a forfeit of privacy is a prerequisite to return home. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A new tool proposes to put a limit on just what border guards will be able to access during a search.

Options for securing your data already exist, though they are tricky at best and potentially illegal at worst. You can wipe your phone before flying, for example, but that’s a huge pain and likely to set off red flags. Lying to CBP agents about the contents of your device? Yeah, don’t do that — you could be charged with a crime. 

So what to do? 1Password, a password-managing service, thinks it’s found a solution… as long as you’re down to shell out for the $35.88 annual membership. The company recently introduced a new feature, called Travel Mode, which it believes gives travelers an edge when it comes to keeping their online accounts private at the border.

“[Travel Mode] protects your 1Password data from unwarranted searches when you travel,” Rick Fillion, a developer at AgileBits (the company behind 1Password), explains in a blog post. “When you turn on Travel Mode, every vault will be removed from your devices except for the ones marked ‘safe for travel.'”

Hiding that data.

Hiding that data.

Image: 1Password

Your “vaults” are essentially encrypted folders within your password manager account that hold login credentials to different online accounts of your choosing. Travel Mode allows you to remove entire groups of login credentials from your device, while still maintaining access to the ones you absolutely require. 

Email? Keep it. Facebook? Not on this trip. With Travel Mode, these kinds of decisions are made easy.

But wait, there’s more. 

“Your vaults aren’t just hidden; they’re completely removed from your devices as long as Travel Mode is on,” continues Fillion. “So even if you’re asked to unlock 1Password by someone at the border, there’s no way for them to tell that Travel Mode is even enabled.”

Importantly, this is no silver bullet. CBP agents can still explicitly demand that you reveal all your online accounts to them, and failure to comply might result in you missing a connection flight or worse. However, if agents simply demand that you unlock your phone and turn it over, Travel Mode provides a much appreciated layer of protection. 

It’s a small step toward keeping your data secure, but an important one.

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People.io data rewards app gets Telefónica co-branding push


London based People.io has taken its first steps outside the UK, expanding its data sharing rewards platform into Germany — where it’s launched a co-branded version of the app with carrier o2 (called o2 Get), targeting the latter’s ~24 million customers.

The People.io app is also available to download via the App Store and Google Play, and o2 parent company Telefónica Germany will also be pushing the apps across its full market footprint of 44M customers. The telco link follows People.ioIn going through the telco’s Wayra Germany accelerator last year. They say they’re the first Wayra-backed startup to launch a co-branded product with Telefónica.

“By co-branding with o2 we benefit from a respected and well known consumer brand which… gives us a fast track to scale; meaning we can focus on creating a great product experience that delivers on our vision to give people ownership of their data,” says co-founder Nicholas Oliver.

“Our decision to launch in Germany was driven by their strong, consumer-centric data privacy laws. This meant we were focussed on building a product that could meet even the most stringent data privacy laws with a view to further market expansion.”

Oliver says the team is expecting to get around 250,000 downloads in the next 6 months in Germany; increasing to just under 1 million by the end of the first year.

The startup is apparently working with around a dozen telcos across 35 markets at this point — although it remains to be seen how many of those conversations will turn into fully fledged co-branded app efforts.

In o2 Germany’s case, People.io’s philosophy around user data ownership clearly meshes with a Telefónica strategic push to give data back to users aimed at fostering customer loyalty.

We first covered People.io back in January 2016, when it had just launched a beta version in Shoreditch, giving locals the chance to share personal data in exchange for building up credits to redeem against digital services like streaming music. It’s since scaled out to be UK wide.

The core idea is to flip the notion that Internet users have to ‘pay’ to use ‘free’ products by having their personal data covertly and persistently harvested by these services. Instead, the platform aims to give people an incentive to share data willingly with it, for targeted ad purposes, rewarding them for sharing data with credits to redeem against different services (and by not sharing their data directly with others).

The People.io app is broadly aimed at 18 to 25 year olds for now, offering a familiar Tinder-style swipe interface for them to respond to questions about their likes and dislikes to start inputting personal data into the platform. They can also choose to connect other data sources, such as their email account, in order to share more info — with increased rewards for sharing more.

Advertisers are able to target marketing messages at People.io users via the platform, but the startup says users’ data is never shared directly with third parties. And the further pledge is that users can delete their account at any point — which immediately and permanently erases all their data.

Oliver describes the platform as “a firewall for people”, and reckons Europe’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have a serious impact on how the ad tech industry operates  regionally, because it gives consumers greater control over how their data is used. The GDPR is due to come into force in May 2018, and includes tough penalties for compliance failures, changing the risks associated with collecting and processing EU citizens’ personal data.

While People.io’s initial product pays data sharers for viewing targeted ads — typically redeemed against gift cards for Amazon, Starbucks and iTunes, according to Oliver, with an option to donate credits earned as cash to charity currently also in testing — its wider vision is around expanding into paid services of its own; utilizing users’ data to offer them the ability to pay to enhance other digital services they use, without having to lose control of their information.

“This might apply to health and fitness, connected home or even productivity apps and experiences,” he explains. “Our advertising feature(s) are really just phase one of a far bigger product vision. It provides us with a familiar consumer experience that allows us to develop the initial relationship with the user. From here, we can then educate them on the value associated to their data and demonstrate why taking ownership of it can benefit them; both financially and through enhanced digital experiences.

“A brief example could be with a Spotify playlist. Having a playlist that dynamically changes your upcoming tracks based on your current context (at work, at home, going running, trying to relax) or mood (stressed, energetic, feel like partying). With People.io — we’d just tell Spotify ‘Nic’s at work’ or ‘Nic is about to go running’ — without sharing any of the data behind that insight. So that means Spotify can do what it does best, without ever needing access to your digital life.”

“When you consider the future of Conversational interfaces, like Amazon Echo, or chat bots; this type of functionality will become increasingly relevant,” he adds.

At this still early stage, People.io has around 35,000 accounts activated since exiting beta in the UK, with around two-thirds of those characterized as ‘monthly actives’.

On average, Oliver says users engage with the app between two to three times a week. While the platform gets around half a million user interactions per month at this point.

He says the startup is currently raising investment to support “continued momentum and growth into other key markets”. Investors to date include Nick Robertson, founder of ASOS; Thomas Höegh, founder of Lovefilm; and Founders’ Factory, the accelerator founded by Brent Hoberman and backed by Guardian Media Group.

European markets are a priority, thanks to the pro-privacy regulatory environment, but Oliver says the team is hoping to expand into the first non-EU market by the end of the year. “The US is certainly a market that we’re keeping an eye on,” he adds.