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Feb 24 / Geoffrey Nathan

Recent dealings with Stingray

So a guy selling pot is robbed by two other guys. And the police use a Stingray to track the robbers down. Then it went to court. The seller was charged with drug distribution, the other guys with felonies.

A couple of weeks ago a judge asked the police to let him see the famous Stingray device I blogged about last. Turns out the police and prosecutors were so loathe to permit the machine to see the light of day that they offered all the putative criminals plea-bargains and they all ended up with probation.

Whole story here.

It will be interesting to see how many of these cases show up in the next year, as Stingray gets better known, and the ‘non-disclosure’ agreements that police departments sign with the FBI when they get the devices get challenged by judges not impressed with secret superpowerful technologies used to conduct simple criminal investigations.

Feb 16 / Geoffrey Nathan

Some random musings about privacy and what lack of it can do to you.

Three quite unrelated postings on ‘teh webs’ struck me this week. Two deal with what your apps are doing to you. One is a Danish public service announcement about what your apps are doing to you. Food for thought, whether we do anything about it or not, and whether we even could:

The second is self-explanatory–have you actually read the terms of use of the apps you download? What happens when you do?

The third is a much longer piece on what can happen to someone who carelessly tweets something they thought was funny. Turns out not everyone is very charitable, and it can literally ruin your life:

Incidentally, this article is an excerpt from Ronson’s forthcoming book.

I have no solutions, just sobering second thoughts.

Feb 5 / Geoffrey Nathan

How Technology Helps Your Friendly Neighborhood Policeman Violate Your Privacy in New and Innovative Ways

As part of National Data Privacy Month I’ve just posted on a national Educause blog about how local and state police are watching you a little too closely for my comfort. You can read about it here:

feel free to comment either below or on the Educause site.

Jan 15 / Geoffrey Nathan

SPSS—Now Free for all Wayne State Students!!


We now have a license for all WSU students to download a copy of SPSS, the best-known commercial statistical software package. Any registered student is entitled to download a copy to their personal computer for free. Because of the way SPSS is licensed, it is only valid until the end of June of this year, but students can update the license starting in July 2015.

Because access is online students can do the download 24/7. They just need to visit

and log in with their WSU AccessID and password. Click ‘Student Software’, then choose SPSS from the column on the left, then select the product wanted. Detailed instructions can be found here.

Availability is restricted to students enrolled in a degree program. It must be installed on a personally-owned computer, and cannot be used for work-related purposes by those who are also employees (and, alas, it’s not available for free for those who are ‘just’ employees). Contact if there are problems getting to the SPSS link.

Dec 2 / Geoffrey Nathan

Blackboard is getting more mobile

Blackboard has released the free version of their mobile app. Previously it came with a small charge, but the latest version is free for all WSU faculty, staff and students. It’s available for both major platforms, iOS and Android, in the usual places (iTunes App Store and Google Play Store). Your students can use it to check their grades and assignments, view documents and web links, and create discussion and blog posts. Instructors can also post announcements (handy if you’re snowed in or forgot to mention something in class), create and edit assignments (although not grade them), email your class or create new discussions.

To get it, just go to the relevant store and search for Blackboard Mobile Learn. Once it’s installed, open it and log in using your normal Wayne State credentials (yes, it’s safe–it goes directly to Blackboard).

Some FAQ’s about what you can do with it are here

Oct 2 / Geoffrey Nathan

This month, learn not to get phished!

As you’ve heard, this month is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Wayne State has decided to celebrate by helping folks develop awareness of phishing techniques. By now everyone should be familiar with phishing (note I don’t even use ‘scare quotes’ to mark the word). But even though we read about it in the papers, and online, a scary number of our colleagues got phished in the past twelve months. Some of them were tricked into getting their direct deposit checks rerouted to a pop-up bank in Nigeria (really!) while others got their computers infected and had to have them reformatted, occasionally losing the data stored on them. And yes, I’m talking about our Wayne State colleagues, not people somewhere else.

C&IT has developed a quiz designed specifically for the Wayne State community. It is intended to help you recognize the warning signs in a phishing message. We’re hoping that heightened awareness and some training (hidden in the quiz) will help protect not only you, but the entire WSU community.

We will be sending out an invitation by email to participate in the ‘survey’. Every completed quiz will be automatically entered in a drawing to win one of two prizes. Students are eligible for a $100 gift card to Barnes & Noble. Employees are eligible for a Wayne State prize pack. Winners will be notified in early November.

My next blog will include specific tips on how to recognize phishing email messages, such as hovering over any links to see whether what pops up matches the text you can see (and also whether, if it’s claiming to come from Wayne State it has a address).

So watch your mailboxes for more on this topic.

Sep 17 / Geoffrey Nathan

More on leaking selfies

I just read a particularly good discussion of the (now dying down) controversy over the leaking of celebrities’ sexted photos. It makes a number of points that haven’t been raised elsewhere:

  1. Saying ‘don’t take revealing pictures of yourself’ because they might leak is like saying ‘don’t use a credit card because your identity might get stolen’.
  2. Phones are a new kind of sex toy, and they and their use is not going away.
  3. People don’t know where their photos go when they use their phones. Almost all phones (iPhones, Androids, at least) automatically, and without our noticing, back photos up to the cloud.
  4. Cloud providers need to get their security act together, but probably won’t, because there isn’t enough shrieking going on.

Just FWIW….

Sep 8 / Geoffrey Nathan

Nude photos online–the latest privacy outrage? Or not so much…

By now everyone knows that a number of (primarily young, almost exclusively female) Hollywood stars had compromising pictures of themselves posted to a public Internet site, provoking much social commentary.

The reason for this post is not the fact that it happened–it happens frequently, and sometimes goes under the heading of ‘revenge porn’. What is more interesting, from my point of view, is the nature of the reactions.

I was discussing this story with some of my younger colleagues at C&IT the other day, and found their response simultaneously startling and familiar. Their answer was ‘Who cares?!! Privacy is dead, get over it.’

What was startling was that I have friends who actually feel that way. What was familiar was the meme ‘privacy is dead’. It was first said in that form by Scott McNealy in 1999. For those who aren’t familiar with McNealy, he was the founder of Sun Microsystems, an early major computer hardware and software company (responsible, among other things for Java, MySQL and NFS).

Discussion of the leaked nude photos has varied widely. The initial response was outrage, particularly from some of the celebrities themselves (although some have also claimed that the photos were fake, for which there is some forensic evidence). On the other hand, much of the early response consisted of statements that could be paraphrased as ‘if you don’t want nude pictures circulating on the internet, don’t take them.’

Interestingly, subsequent commentary has had two directions. One is to suggest that blaming the stars for having nude pictures floating around is like blaming women for being raped because they wore [fill in your favorite meme] clothing.

On the other hand, a number of commentators have suggested the fault lies in the poor security structure of iCloud, or perhaps of the iPhone (apparently a hack of the Find My iPhone may have permitted the Apple cloud storage system to be breached, although that vulnerability has since been patched).

Other commentators (including my buddy Nick Gillespie) have suggested that this is something for which the cure would be worse than the disease.

Finally, danah boyd, a radical feminist blogger who works for Microsoft (yes, you read that right) wrote very thoughtfully several years ago about the morality of ‘outing’ people on the Internet, an activity somewhat related to this.

I have no words of wisdom to provide here–I’m an onlooker watching how the world is changing around me. Thoughts?




Aug 26 / Geoffrey Nathan

Office 365–Now Free to Our Students

Wayne State has signed up for Microsoft’s Student Advantage Program – C&IT now provides free downloads of the latest version of Microsoft Office to all currently registered Wayne State students. This includes full-featured current versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook for PCs and Macs. PC users also get Access and OneNote. Students will be permitted to download five (5!) copies, which will run on Mac OS X, Windows, and Windows tablets running (real) Windows 8 (not RT).

Although the download process is a little complicated, there are clear instructions, and the Help Desk stands ready to provide assistance. C&IT didn’t forget faculty and staff – keep an eye out for Microsoft-related updates coming your way in the next year. Meanwhile, many folks have access to some version of Office through deals their colleges or departments have made–check with your tech support folks to find out. In some cases you can get a complete downloadable set for your home computer for the relatively low price of $75. The full details on the Student Advantage Program are available at – tell your students at your first class. It’s a great deal!


Aug 7 / Geoffrey Nathan

Privacy Becomes the Center of Controversies on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Over the past couple of weeks a number of important privacy-related legal decisions have hit the IT policy landscape, and I thought I’d take time today to talk about one of them. The other will be a topic next week.

First, the European Court of Justice ruled that Google must stop linking to search results that are ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ if someone requests it. It all revolves around someone who wanted Google to stop returning a newspaper article from the late nineties about his house being repossessed in the eighties.

Since then Google has received tens of thousands of requests to ‘be forgotten’, and is establishing a system to decide how to respond to those requests. It also has a warning (only on the European versions of its pages) that not all results are being displayed if that item has been ‘censored’.

As one might imagine, this has caused a firestorm. Numerous commentators have argued that this will simply permit politicians and other public figures to hide their shady pasts. Although the official court decision said ‘journalistic work may not be touched’ Google has delinked a number of blog posts on various European online newspapers, and Wikipedia itself has received at least fifty notices from Google that articles have been removed from search results. As a result Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia blasted the decision as a violation of the human right to have access to history.

An additional weird, but understandable, twist is that the ruling applies to Google, but only to European Google, so it has no effect on searches conducted from elsewhere in the world. Even more interesting, the publishers of the actual articles do not have to delete them–it’s simply that Google must not report them in a search. So the offending material is still on the web, and other search engines (such as, which does not track you and does not note where you are), and computers whose IP addresses are concealed (such as with ‘Incognito Browsing’) will still find the relevant information.

In addition, it is likely that this result will trigger what has come to be known as the Streisand Effect–loudly attempting to hide something leads to it being even more visible. This is certainly the case for the Spanish guy who started the whole story (you can find his name yourself, as well as all the information he was trying to suppress, with very simple search tools).

On Monday I’ll tell you about a different case, where a US judge attacked European’s right to privacy in a totally different way.