Ask a hundred people why they like to escape to the forest and you’ll probably get a hundred reasons, but chances are good that more than a few will say they seek the peace and quiet of the woods. And while the woods can be a raucous place between the wildlife and the human visitors, it is indeed a world apart from a busy city street, at least in the audio frequencies. But on the EM spectrum, most forests are nearly as noisy as your average cube farm, and that turns out to be a huge problem if you happen to run exquisitely sensitive radio receivers. That’s the reason for the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile electromagnetic safe-zone in the woods west of Washington DC. Who’s listening to what and why are a fascinating part of this story, as are the steps that are taken to keep this area as electromagnetically quiet as possible.
Most tech savvy individuals are well aware of the vast amounts of data that social networking companies collect on us. Some take steps to avoid this data collection, others consider it a trade-off for using free tools to stay in touch with friends and family. Sometimes these ads can get a bit… creepy. Have you ever noticed an ad in the sidebar and thought to yourself, “I just searched for that…” It can be rather unsettling.
[Brian] was looking for ways to get back at his new roommate in retaliation of prank that was pulled at [Brian’s] expense. [Brian] is no novice to Internet marketing. One day, he realized that he could create a Facebook ad group with only one member. Playing off of his roommate’s natural paranoia, he decided to serve up some of the most eerily targeted Facebook ads ever seen.
Creating extremely targeted ads without giving away the prank is trickier than you might think. The ad can’t be targeted solely for one person. It needs to be targeted to something that seems like a legitimate niche market, albeit a strange one. [Brian’s] roommate happens to be a professional sword swallower (seriously). He also happens to ironically have a difficult time swallowing pills. naturally, [Brian] created an ad directed specifically towards that market.
The roommate thought this was a bit creepy, but mostly humorous. Slowly over the course of three weeks, [Brian] served more and more ads. Each one was more targeted than the last. He almost gave himself away at one point, but he managed to salvage the prank. Meanwhile, the roommate grew more and more paranoid. He started to think that perhaps Facebook was actually listening in on his phone calls. How else could they have received some of this information? As a happy coincidence, all of this happened at the same time as the [Edward Snowden] leaks. Not only was the roommate now concerned about Facebook’s snooping, but he also had the NSA to worry about.
Eventually, [Brian] turned himself in using another custom Facebook ad as the reveal. The jig was up and no permanent damage was done. You might be wondering how much it cost [Brian] for this elaborate prank? The total cost came to $1.70. Facebook has since changed their ad system so you can only target a minimum of 20 users. [Brian] provides an example of how you can get around the limitation, though. If you want to target a male friend, you can simply add 19 females to the group and then target only males within your group of 20 users. A pretty simple workaround
This prank brings up some interesting social questions. [Brian’s] roommate seemed to actually start believing that Facebook might be listening in on his personal calls for the purposes of better ad targeting. How many other people would believe the same thing? Is it really that far-fetched to think that these companies might move in this direction? If we found out they were already doing this type of snooping, would it really come as a shock to us?
Two of the talks at HOPE X Saturday revolved around Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Snowden when he leaked thousands of classified NSA documents to several media outlets. The older readers may remember Ellsberg who released government documents, known as the Pentagon Papers, pertaining to government decisions made during the Vietnam War. It was a popular topic here as all three conference rooms were dedicated to the the talks and all three were completely filled to the point that staff again had to turn people away. Luckily, even if you couldn’t make it into a conference room you could still watch it as all talks are streamed live via the HOPE website.
Regardless whether you feel these two are heroes or traitors, the talks were interesting with both giving accounts of their story. Each interview was about an hour long.
Ellsberg, who was here in person, talked about his entire experience and why he felt it necessary to reveal the classified documents he had secretly made copies of. Even though Ellsberg did release what he felt was evidence that the government knew that the war could most likely not be won and would cause many more casualties, he does still feel that some things are necessary for the government to keep secret. He gave an estimate that 95% of the documents classified are over-classified at the time of document creation and after a few years only 0.5% of the those documents are still classified correctly, the remaining 99.5% still over-classified.
Snowden, who was available by video, was warmly welcomed and applauded by the attendees of the conference. During the talk he discussed that he did not feel that some of the NSA’s actions he was aware of were constitutional, specifically collecting enormous amounts of data of not only ‘people of interest’, but of everyday american citizens. Snowden feels that we, as a community, give too much trust in our electronic devices. He went on to suggest that the population do what it can to minimize the capability of organizations to monitor communications and track data. He urged that people, with the capability, help educate others on how to interact with technology safely, reliably and in a way that serves the interest of all people, not just a select few.
Let us know what you think below in the comments.