THE NEWS WRAP: Mooted Alibaba deal could put Snapchat in the $10 billion club

7:25PM | Wednesday, 30 July

Snapchat is in talks with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba for a round of financing that may value the company at $10 billion, sources told Bloomberg.   Talks are ongoing and the terms of the funding may change, one of the sources said.   If the funding is completed, Snapchat would join an elite group of technology startups, including Airbnb and Dropbox, valued at or above $10 billion.   People send more than 700 million disappearing “snaps” a day and more than 500 million stories are viewed daily.   Tablet sales crashing?   Best Buy chief executive officer Hubert Joly has told Re/code that the company has seen a revival in PC sales in the company’s first quarter.   Joly puts attributes the growth in PC sales at least in part to Microsoft’s decision to stop supporting Windows XP, and says tablet sales have dropped off.   “The tablets boomed and are now crashing,” he says.   “The volume has really gone down in the last several months.”   He says the issue facing tablets is that once you have a tablet of a certain generation, it’s not clear that you have to move to the next gen.   Twitter acquires Madbits   Madbits, a deep-learning-based computer vision startup, has been purchased by Twitter.   Details of the acquisition are unknown, but Madbits confirmed the purchase in a statement on its website.   Over the past year the company has been building visual intelligence technology that “automatically understands, organizes and extracts relevant information from raw media”.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 31.75 to 16,880.36. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter quarterly results confound analysts’ expectations

7:18PM | Tuesday, 29 July

Twitter stocks have surged by almost 30% in after-hours trading following the announcement of its second quarter financial performance, which included revenue of $312 million and $0.02 earnings per share.   The figures beat analysts’ estimates, with Wall Street expecting Twitter to post revenue of $283.07 million and losses of $0.01 per share.   Its revenue for the quarter is up 124% from the same period a year ago.   Eighty-one per cent of revenue in the period came from mobile advertising.   Its average monthly active users (MAUs) increased by 24% year-over-year, to 271 million, while Mobile MAUs reached 211 million, an increase of 29% year-over-year and made up 78% of the company’s total MAUs.   Twitter chief executive officer Dick Costolo says the strong financial and operating results show the company’s continued momentum.   “We remain focused on driving user growth and engagement, and by developing new product experiences, like the one we built around the World Cup, we believe we can extend Twitter’s appeal to an ever broader audience.”   New Microsoft Windows phones arriving soon Microsoft is planning to launch two new Windows 8.1 devices shortly, The Verge reports.   Sources told The Verge that Microsoft Devices chief Stephen Elop revealed the two handsets, a “selfie phone” and an “affordable high-end phone” at an internal company meeting this week.   E-commerce company Jet raises $55 million Marc Lore, the former CEO of parent company Quidsi, which was sold to Amazon for $550 million, has raised $55 million to build out a new e-commerce company called Jet, Re/code reports.   Little is known about what Jet plans on selling, but sources tell Re/code that the startup will be extremely tech focused and is working on innovating around its logistics network.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 16,912.11 down 70.48. The Australia dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

Monetised referrals power up Peerbrief’s recruitment service

7:39PM | Tuesday, 29 July

Sydney-based startup Peerbrief is giving people the opportunity to refer their friends for jobs and, if their referral is successful, earn $1000 for it.   It’s a crowdsourcing recruiting website and internal candidate referral management system that aims to allow people to profit from their personal networks.   It offers two services. The first, which is free to join for both referrers and employers, aims to give those employers the ability to source potential hires through the crowd. Companies then pay a $1000 fee to the user, or the charity of their choice, who refers the successful candidate.   Peerbrief founder and chief executive officer Rob Fanshawe, who has almost 15 years’ experience in the recruitment industry, says the service saves employers an enormous amount of time and money compared to traditional recruiting processes.   “Most companies have a referral system and would be used to paying $1000 and up for referrals,” he says.   “It’s obviously motivational, to give people motivation to refer their friends for a role.”   In addition to the cash prize, users referrals are reviewed by employers, giving users incentive to avoid spammy recommendations, and there are also various achievements and badges that can be unlocked.   The second service Peerbrief offers is a subscription-based software-as-a-service platform which enables companies to set up closed referral systems to enable their employees to refer jobs.   The Peerbrief service launches today, beginning with three industries – tech, media, and marketing and advertising – with the intention of growing each to a base of around 1000 referrers and eventually expanding to around 25 industries.   The startup has received $300,000 in seed funding and is “just closing” another round of funding worth $800,000. Fanshawe couldn’t disclose from whom.   Fanshawe says he came up with the idea “where all good ideas come from” – the pub.   “I was having a beer with a senior executive and he was grumbling about how headhunters, of which I was one, profit off his network by asking for referrals and the most he would get was a pat on the back,” he says.   “So I came up with a way to monetize the network for him, while making it much faster and cheaper for employers.   “And at the end of the day, we’re helping Australians earn some extra money on the side.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Mozilla names Chris Beard its new CEO after Brendan Eich disaster

7:38AM | Tuesday, 29 July

Mozilla has finally named a new chief executive nearly four months after a firestorm of controversy engulfed the leadership of Brendan Eich within days of him taking the position.   In a statement, Mozilla co-founder and chairwoman Mitchell Baker announced interim chief executive Chris Beard will take on the position following a review examining “many internal and external candidates”.   “Chris first joined Mozilla in 2004, just before we shipped Firefox 1.0 – and he’s been deeply involved in every aspect of Mozilla ever since,” said Baker.   “During his many years here, he at various times has had responsibility for almost every part of the business, including product, marketing, innovation, communications, community and user engagement,” she said.   In late March, following the resignation of former chief executive Jay Sullivan, Mozilla co-founder Eich was named as its new chief executive.   However, just days later, it was revealed by the LA Times that Eich had made a donation in 2008 to a campaign seeking to outlaw same-sex marriage in California. By early April, amid the controversy that followed, Eich resigned as chief executive of the Firefox developer.   Last month, Mozilla announced a major push into the Asia-Pacific region for its low-end Firefox OS smartphone platform, as it develops a ChromeCast-like streaming video device set for release “later this year”. It also announced Firefox OS/Mozilla Marketplace apps will now work natively on Android devices running Firefox for Android.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

What data retention is, and why it’s bad

7:15AM | Tuesday, 29 July

With the Australian government “actively considering” data retention, and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief David Irvine telling a Senate committee that it is crucial to intelligence-gathering and that Australians have nothing to fear from it, it’s time for a clarifier on exactly what data retention is and the concerns it raises.   What is data retention?   The compulsory retention of information about a citizen’s telecommunications and online usage, either by telcos and internet service providers themselves, or by a government agency, so that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can use it to investigate crime and national security threats.   What sort of data?   Depends. The European Union scheme (now ruled illegal) was limited to telecommunications metadata — whom you called and when, duration of call, location, and the account linked to a particular IP address. The previous Australian government cited the EU model as what it had in mind when it invited a parliamentary inquiry into the idea in 2012. However, some individual countries (like Denmark) went further than the Eu directive and included web browsing history. Most Australian agencies officially only want metadata, not content data (like browsing history and email contents), but some agencies and police forces want the lot. Some things, like email subject lines, could arguably be either metadata or content data. The definition of what data will be subject to a data retention regime is thus crucial.   What would it cost?   In evidence to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that considered the issue in 2012, iiNet said it might cost them $5 a month for every customer to store data. That, in effect, is a $60 a year surveillance tax on every household. iiNet has recently significantly increased its estimate of the likely cost. Remember, both companies and government agencies will not merely need to store this data, but ensure it is stored safely — the vast trove of personal data that data retention will produce will be immensely attractive to criminals (and online activists looking to demonstrate how unsafe it is — in 2012, Anonymous hackers released customer data obtained from AAPT to protest the then-government’s data retention proposal).   What happens currently?   Traditionally, telcos have retained phone records because that was how they billed you. But there is decreasing need for specific call-based billing as consumers move to data-based plans. Moreover, companies have no need for metadata beyond the billing cycle, and given there’s a cost to storing such data, they are keeping less of it for the sort of periods agencies prefer — usually two years. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies call this “going dark” — losing access to phone information of the kind they’ve had for decades.   So what’s the problem - isn’t this just maintaining the status quo?   No. Let’s just focus on phone data. Your mobile phone data includes your location as your phone interacts with nearby phone towers, so in effect it can be used as a tracking device. But more importantly, forget that “it’s just metadata” (or “just billing data” as the Prime Minister said). A single phone call time and duration won’t tell anyone much about you. But in aggregate, metadata will reveal far more about you than content data.   With automated data-sifting software, agencies can accumulate a record of everyone you have called, everyone they have called, how long you spoke for, the order of the calls, and where you were when you made the call, to build a profile that says far more about you than any solitary overheard phone call or email. It can reveal not just straightforward details such as your friends and acquaintances, but also if you have medical issues, your financial interests, what you’re buying, if you’re having an affair or ended a relationship. Combined with other publicly available information, having a full set of metadata on an individual will tell you far more than much of their content data ever will.   And if you don’t believe us, ask the people who know: the General Counsel for the United States National Security Agency has publicly stated, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content”. According to the former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, the US government kills people based on metadata it has accumulated on them. As Edward Snowden says: “You can’t trust what you’re hearing, but you can trust the metadata.”   OK, but we’ve already given away our privacy to Facebook etc, haven’t we? Why shouldn’t agencies that want to protect us get the same data?   This is an argument routinely used by data retention advocates, and by Irvine himself. But going on Facebook isn’t compulsory. Citizens choose to use social media or other online platforms and voluntarily engage in the swap of privacy for services that so many applications are built on. Maybe they don’t understand the full nature of what they’re losing in that transaction, but it’s still voluntary. There is nothing voluntary about data retention — not unless you want to withdraw from the 21st century and not use telecommunications and online services.   But agencies say they need it to help prevent and solve crimes.   Let’s look at what happened in Europe. A German parliament study concluded data retention in Germany had led to an increase in the crime clearance rate of 0.006%. (The German scheme was later ruled unconstitutional.) Danish police, who have a much wider metadata and content data retention scheme, said the sheer amount of information was too unwieldy to use.   But such-and-such a high-profile crime was solved with metadata.   Maybe. But that metadata was available without a data retention regime. As the German study demonstrates, the number of crimes solved because of old metadata that would not otherwise have been available is negligible. And anyway, in western societies, we have long accepted that there is a trade-off between the rights of the individual, including a right to privacy, and the state’s power to protect its citizens. We understand that our civil liberties make it harder for the state to prevent, detect and punish crime, but value them enough to keep them anyway. Data retention alters this balance in favour of the state.   But we can trust our agencies to do the right thing.   Australia’s agencies generally have a better record of behaviour than foreign agencies. For example, repeated abuses such as stalking women, sharing intimate photos and listening in to intimate conversations, have been revealed to have occurred in the NSA; the CIA recently spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee while it was preparing a report exposing the agency’s use of torture; MI6 abducted and rendered Libyan dissidents to the Gaddafi regime for torture in exchange for help in the War on Terror.   However, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service are by no means perfect and serious questions remain, for example, about both ASIS’s bugging of the East Timorese cabinet in 2004 and ASIO’s efforts to intimidate and gag the whistleblower who revealed it late in 2013. We also know from Edward Snowden that Australians intelligence agencies use electronic surveillance not for protecting us from terrorists, but for economic espionage.   The problem is that, unlike normal government bureaucracies, intelligence agencies have minimal public oversight or accountability, and can use national security as a justification to resist media scrutiny. The lack of oversight means incompetence, corruption, mission creep and criminal activity are far less likely to come to light than in normal government agencies. Public transparency is one of the key motivations for public servants to behave appropriately, and it doesn’t exist for agencies engaged in surveillance. And the more personal data they have access to, the greater the temptation.   But if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.   Wear clothes in warm weather and have blinds in your windows? What are you hiding?   Are you happy for everyone to know where you are all the time, who your friends are, whom you’re having a relationship with, everyone you call, whether you have a medical or financial problem? It is not up to privacy advocates to “prove” the right to or importance of privacy. All governments acknowledge it is a fundamental right. If you support breaching that right, it is up to you to make the case, not demand privacy advocates defend it.   And law enforcement and intelligence agencies don’t merely target people “with something to hide.” People as diverse as whistleblowers, journalists, politicians, non-government groups and activists are subject to surveillance by such agencies, despite not having “done anything” other than reveal wrongdoing by governments and companies and protest against it. Data retention thus indirectly threatens core processes of democracy like whistleblowing, political organisation and scrutiny of governments. And once information is collected, agencies will press for its permanent retention. Some already argue that information should be retained forever. That means all future governments will have access to it. You may be comfortable with the current government having access to your data - but what about all future governments?   And law enforcement and intelligence agencies aren’t the only groups who have access to metadata. In Australia, bodies as diverse as local councils, the RSPCA and health bodies can obtain telephone metadata on citizens without a warrant.   But this is about stopping terrorism – the ends justify the means.   Terrorism is a wildly overhyped threat in western countries. About three times more Australians have died falling out of bed since 2001 than have died at the hands of terrorists; more Australians die from diseases like shingles and chickenpox than from terrorism. More women and children die at the hands of the partners and parents in Australia every year than the total number of Australian victims of terrorism. More Americans die from causes like malnutrition, falls, swimming accidents and work accidents each year than the entire death toll from 9/11. The level of spending we direct toward national security is completely unjustified in terms of the harms it prevents.   As a threat to the health and lives of western citizens, terrorism is negligible compared to deaths caused by poor infrastructure, bad health policies, unsafe workplaces or poverty. Data retention would be yet another expensive, intrusive national security policy that has no objective justification. Doing things in the name of stopping terrorism relies on our emotional fear of attacks, rather than making the case for taking away our rights.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This story first appeared on

Video-on-demand search engine has sights set on underserved market

7:05AM | Tuesday, 29 July

With the proliferation of online video streaming services (everywhere, but here in Australia that is) Australian startup Gyde is offering users a new way to find video on the internet.   Gyde’s smartphone app is much like Popcorn Time, the controversial app which sources torrented movies and TV shows and allows its users to stream them. Popcorn Time is designed to make using torrents as easy as possible, helping individuals to find video content from its providers.   Product lead Andrew Julian says ultimately Gyde is a search engine and aggregator for video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, rather than torrents, and has been created with a similar ideal in mind.   “We’re excited for people to try the product, we think it will resonate with most of them, when we talk to people out and about, something people commonly identify with is it’s too difficult to find a movie online,” he says.   Gyde is based in Melbourne and Los Angeles, a decision the team made in order to give them easy access to the more developed video streaming market in the US and more opportunities to raise capital.   The company has received seed investment from an angel investor based in Los Angeles, although Julian could not say who or how much was invested.   While piracy tends to dominate discussions on making money in this space, Julian says “without excusing it” piracy in Australia is a product of an underserved market.   “From a consumer perspective, there’s not a lot of options,” he says.   At the moment Gyde supports iTunes, Netflix and Hulu Plus platforms and has built the system in a way that allows it to easily expand to support more.   The company plans to monetize Gyde through affiliate commissions, pointing people in the direction of subscription services, and through data insights about its users.   “We can provide a rich guide of user intentions, a core feature of the app is users can shortlist content they might be interested in watching, and things they want to watch now,” he says.   Those shortlists also give the app a social element. It enables users to connect with friends and do things like merge shortlists to make deciding what movie to watch an easy task.   Data taken by the app can also help video users find content that they might be interested in, but is difficult to find, buried deep within the catalogues of those subscription providers, which, Julian says, creates additional value in their catalogues.   The app will launch in both Australia and the US in September.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

INCUBATE announces its eight new startups

7:54AM | Tuesday, 29 July

Jay Boolkin, founder of Promise or Pay, is on a mission to keep people true to their word and get them to deliver on a commitment they keep making and breaking – or pay up to charity.   He has an active user base who are accountable for meeting goals they have set themselves: anything from ‘drink a litre of water a day’, to ‘complete a half marathon’ to ‘switch off my smart phone every night’.   His startup is one of eight selected to take part in the University of Sydney Union’s startup accelerator program, INCUBATE.   Other startups include Meerkat, designing a solution to prevent “flat-head syndrome” in children.   Meerkat are a collaborative team of talented medical practitioners, public health officials and industrial engineers developing the first-ever stroller designed with the combined safety, health and development of the child as its top priority.   They are working with the University of Sydney’s Commercial Development and Industry Partnerships team.   "The dynamic energy of working alongside fellow startups in INCUBATE, as well as the focused direction of the program provided by the mentors, creates an atmosphere directed towards success on a myriad of levels for our budding ideas to take flight" says Michelle Lee, product development coordinator for Meerkat.   PicPac, also taking part in INCUBATE, is the highest-rated stop motion animation app for Android.   It has packed more than five million pictures into 60,000+ videos so far, and has more than a thousand daily active users says Founder, Ron Genliang Guan.   “A successful startup comes from a good idea plus a good team plus INCUBATE, where I’m finding the help from mentors and other entrepreneurs is tremendous.”   Mahesh Muralidhar, founder of UReferJobs, also made it into the program and aims to shake up the recruitment market.   Using individuals’ networks and rewarding them for referring is what UReferJobs is all about.   “We have 10+ companies using our recruitment solution. On average we have saved organisations 80% on their costs, delivering top quality candidates,” Muralidhar says.   “Our platform will be a free, easy to setup, internal referral system. We have beta customers on board and are looking for others – this is an opportunity for organisations to significantly reduce their recruitment costs. We are also in conversations with investors.”   James Alexander, INCUBATE’s program manager, says they considered 40 applications for this intake.   “It is always a competitive process, we look for diversity and early-stage companies with scalable innovations that are able to offer real solutions to acute problems,” Alexander says.   In a snapshot:   More women: 50% of the startups have women co-founders More entrepreneurial researchers: two of the eight startups involve researchers – bringing their solutions to the real world More traction: three of the eight startups have revenue and first customers, and PicPac has had over 20,000 downloads on the Android store   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Winning BattleHack not as easy as (Raspberry) Pi

7:48AM | Tuesday, 29 July

A late night hunt for a replacement Raspberry Pi and a sleepless night led to victory for a team of developers known as Gearbox in PayPal and Braintree’s Sydney BattleHack.   The team won the 24-hour hackathon with an Internet of Things solution that allows users to open a secure box, which would be placed in public parks and enable access to sports equipment that could be paid for using PayPal.   The team cooked the Raspberry Pi they were using during the hack, which sparked a frantic online search for a replacement.   A shout out on social media found an eBay seller willing to meet them late on Saturday night and the project was saved.   #GearBox just blew a @Raspberry_Pi at the @PayPalDev #battlehack in Sydney. Can anyone locally sell us one?— Tom Frauenfelder (@tomfrauenfelder) July 26, 2014   The senior global director of the PayPal and Braintree Developer Network, John Lunn, who was also one of the competition judges, chuckles when recalling the team’s frantic search, but says it’s all part and parcel of a hackathon.   “We had some dramas, but we had a fun time,” he says with a laugh.   BattleHack Sydney is one of 14 BattleHacks around the globe and the Gearbox team will now be flown to San Francisco to compete in the BattleHack World Finals in November with a $US100,000 prize up for grabs.   It’s the second year BattleHack has been running, but the first time it’s visited Australia, and Lunn says the Gearbox team should have a good chance in the world finals.   “We didn’t know what to expect, but were happy to get the a variety of different people, from young university students to more senior people from university, people that worked corporate jobs at large companies in Sydney and people who were working on their own startups,” he says.   “The quality was fine. We had a nice mixture of hardware and software and a good completion rate, the hacks we saw were finished.”   Midnight is here and so are many of the hackers #BattleHack #Sydney 13hrs to go.— Jason Cartwright (@techAU) July 26, 2014   BattleHack teams were tasked with coming up with a solution to a local problem that would make their city a better place to live, using a mobile application that incorporates PayPal or Braintree.   Lunn says there was a great mix of ideas, including a number of which aimed to help the homeless, one of which looked at how homeless people could take donations once the world moves away from physical money, while others dealt with street art and crowdfunding.   “I am so pleased we could bring BattleHack to Australia this year to give Aussie developers a chance to show off their skills,” he says.   “The creativity and quality of code we saw proved that Australia has world-class developer talent.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Local Measure secures ex-Twitter executive as COO

7:43AM | Tuesday, 29 July

Australian location-based social platform Local Measure has announced the appointment of former Twitter executive Sara Axelrod as its first chief operating officer.   Following Local Measure’s recent expansion supported into Singapore, Manila and Miami, Axelrod joins the Australian startup to further grow the business, oversee the day-to-day operations and ensure operational excellence across the company in all markets.   Axelrod will be responsible for driving all customer-facing departments, including professional services, customer services and support, and sales. Having driven growth strategies globally within several business units at Twitter, Axelrod will also focus on fuelling Local Measure’s continued expansion across the US, Asia and other regions.   Prior to Local Measure, Axelrod spent three years at Twitter during which she successfully grew Twitter’s mid-market sales team to over 130 employees globally.  As the head of Technology, Telecom, and Mobile sector for Twitter, Axelrod’s role involved overseeing the company’s first efforts to develop and market mobile products.   “What I find most compelling about Local Measure is its undisputed uniqueness in the way it extracts valuable insights from location-based data in real time, helping businesses delve into any social media interactions relevant to their brand,” says Axelrod.   “Working with international brands like Fusion, Singtel and Qantas, and three new offices in Manila, Singapore and Miami, Local Measure is poised for even greater success. I’m looking forward to take the company to the next level in its global dominance.”   Jonathan Barouch, founder and CEO of Local Measure, says that hiring a COO became vital to maintain and further mature the company’s global expansion.   “Sara is a stellar hire and we are thrilled to have her on-board. This new hire marks a great milestone for Local Measure,” says Barouch.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

C'mon girls, let’s program a better tech industry

7:56AM | Tuesday, 29 July

Twitter is the latest tech company to reveal figures showing women are still underrepresented in the information and communication technology (ICT) workforce.   Men make up 70% of the overall staff and women just 30%, according to a blog post by Janet Van Huysse, the company’s vice president for diversity and inclusion.   But within technical jobs at the social media giant only one in ten of employees are women, she also revealed.   Lately everyone seems to be talking about attracting women to ICT. Last year, Stanford University released the She++ documentary about recruiting women to study computing that was screened in 11 countries.   Google made a big splash last month with its new venture, Made with Code, aimed at inspiring girls to try coding.   {qtube vid:=Bo11JJgj1cU}   Other ventures include TechGirls, Digital Divas and RoboGals.   Why the focus on girls and women?   Twitter isn’t the only ICT company in which women are vastly underrepresented.   Pinterest has also revealed that only 40% of its overall staff are women and that figure drops to just 21% of the technical workforce.   Google said in May that 30% of its overall workforce is female, although only 17% of its technical workforce. LinkedIn and Facebook have similar numbers.   Australia’s gender numbers look much the same. A 2013 survey by the Australian Computer Society found that women made up 28% of all ICT workers across a range of industries, and about 18% of the technical and professional workforce within the ICT industry itself.   Why does this matter?   The ICT sector is doing well, regardless of this gender imbalance. Technology is one of the primary drivers of the modern economy and a sector where productivity is rapidly increasing.   Salaries are good and rising. Job growth has remained consistent, despite the current economic crisis. But Europe projects a deficit of at least 700,000 skilled ICT workers by 2015, and the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency projects shortfalls in most ICT occupations by 2025.   An ICT workforce without women is bad for women. Women will be left behind economically. Women will be shut out of some of the most influential positions in industry and government due to lack of relevant skills and experience. Women’s interests will not be adequately represented in the products and services produced by the ICT industry.   An ICT workforce without women is bad for the ICT industry and more broadly for the economy. If women do not enter the industry, it will be difficult to meet projected demand for ICT skills.   Perhaps more importantly, diversity is good for business. According to the US National Center for Women in Technology:   Groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than do homogenous groups, and the presence of women in a group is more likely to increase the collective intelligence of the group.   Why is this happening?   University enrolments in ICT tell a clear story: women are not choosing to study courses that lead (directly) to ICT careers. Completions of ICT degrees are down across the board, approximately 30% since 2003.   The relative proportion of women has decreased as well. Only 19% of ICT enrolments in Australia in 2013 were of women, down from 25% in 2001.   This then begs the question of why women aren’t studying ICT. The Victorian ICT Development Plan cites research that confirmed negative and stereotypical attitudes to ICT careers among high school students.   A Victorian study suggests that lack of early exposure to software tools impacts female students' interest in ICT.   Is there a solution?   There are general programs aimed at stimulating interest in ICT among young people, such as the Digital Careers program and the National Computer Science School.   But such programs typically attract students who are already interested in technology, rather than providing a venue to discover a new interest. As a case in point, when I offered a term-long Computer Science Unplugged enrichment class at my daughter’s primary school, the students who signed up were all boys who were avid gamers (plus my daughter).   Career expos can go some way to highlighting career paths and identifying the tremendous opportunities available in technology, possibly also correcting misconceptions about the impact of off-shoring on ICT jobs.   Capturing girls' interest   So, if we can agree that we want more women in tech, how do we draw them in? Here are my suggestions, based on my personal experience as a woman and a computer scientist.   DO start early   We must engage girls in ICT long before tertiary education, preferably starting in primary school. While our young students gain basic computer literacy, the focus is too much on using computers, and not enough on innovating through them.   DO provide opportunities for girls to experience the creative side of ICT   With visual programming tools such as MIT’s Scratch and Carnegie Mellon’s Alice (used in New Zealand’s Programming Challenge 4 girls), it’s easier than ever to jump right in to building things with code. Similarly fun, hands-on projects are available for other areas of ICT.   DO highlight role models and diverse career paths   It’s not easy to aspire to be part of an industry where you can’t see yourself in the people already there. One of the more inspiring experiences of my career was attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, simply because it was a convention centre full of females excited about technology. Who knew there were so many of us? We’ll be trying to do that here in Victoria next month, with the Go Girl, Go for IT event aimed at female high school students.   DON’T overly stereotype girls   In an attempt to target ICT activities specifically at girls, it is important not to go overboard in making those activities too “girly”. US high school student Abby Wheat wrote eloquently:   Do people really think that the only way you will ever get a girl to write coding for innovative software is to stick a butterfly somewhere in there?   Google’s Made with Code has been criticised for starting with a project that creates jewellery with code.   Jewelry, pink and sparkles don’t appeal to all girls. More importantly, it reinforces the message that girls in ICT are outsiders and need their own special (separate) space to do ICT. Women should be drawn into the common space, not a pink-walled zone.   Now, about those stereotypes …   When young people think of ICT, they apparently imagine a nerdy hacker working in solitude in a dark room (or so my teenager tells me). This simply does not reflect the reality of the many collaborative and creative ICT workplaces.   Misconception #1: ICT requires mathematical skills   There are many aspects of ICT that don’t use mathematics at all. Web programming and software engineering are much more about algorithms – a sequence of instructions that a computer must follow to solve a problem or to respond appropriately to a request.   Misconception #2: Programming is logical and sterile   Programming does require translating an idea into a logical breakdown of that idea that a computer can understand. In my experience the process of working out that logic often requires tremendous creativity. Solutions to problems are not always obvious, and there may be many different ways to solve the same problem.   Misconception #3: People who work in ICT aren’t social   As technology becomes more complex, diverse project teams must work together to design and build solutions. Teams might involve a user experience expert, a graphic designer, a database expert, a domain expert and programmers with various areas of focus.   Many of these suggestions apply equally to boys and girls. But girls do seem to be disproportionately disinterested in ICT.   Targeted action is needed to help girls find rewarding career paths in ICT, and to support them to stay on those paths. The effort will pay off in innovation benefiting us all.   C'mon girls, ICT is fun!   Karin Verspoor is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at University of Melbourne.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tracking your digital fingerprint online raises privacy issues

7:28AM | Monday, 28 July

Just how much information we give away about ourselves as we browse the web has been raised again by a tracking device used in thousands of websites.   Researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven have revealed the widespread use of a technique called “canvas fingerprinting” that tracks the activities of people on a website without their knowledge.   More than 5,600 websites were identified using the fingerprinting technique including Australian websites such as Australia Post, the Fairwork Ombudsman and the Sea Shepherd conservation group.   While this technique is relatively new, it represents another front in a very long battle to find out what users do online, and raises concerns about our ability to control our online privacy.   Here, have a cookie   Technical mechanisms for uniquely identifying web users date back to the introduction of the cookie in the Netscape browser in 1994.   When the user loads a webpage they get all the information necessary to display the page, such as the text, layout and images. But they also a small amount of “cookie” data sent along too, which is stored by the browser on the user’s computer.   When the user requests another page from the same website, the browser appends the cookie to the request to the server. In this way, the server hosting the website knows that the request came from the same computer.   Cookies are extremely useful and without them there would be no support for website logins.   But they can also be used to provide a complete record of a user’s use of a website. The use of “tracking cookies” allows this recording to extend across many, many websites, providing a comprehensive picture of a user’s browsing history to whoever controls the tracking cookie.   This becomes particularly intrusive if this browsing history can then be tied to any identifying data.   Privacy management   Understandably, many internet users aren’t terribly enthusiastic about their browsing history being so readily available to third parties. Tools to manage cookies have been incorporated into internet browsers and third-party privacy tools.   Deleting cookies, or controlling whether particular cookies are sent back to particular websites, gives the user more control over the extent of monitoring.   The technical response of browser developers has been combined with legal measures, such as the European Union’s privacy directive.   Under these rules, cookies used in a potentially privacy-invading manner must be disclosed to website visitors and explicit consent obtained.   Browser fingerprinting   Some internet companies have now turned to another ingenious technique for uniquely identifying and tracking users.   Rather than relying on browsers to send back a previously sent cookie, they collect enough information about the user’s browser environment to uniquely identify the user.   Modern computers have specialised hardware that greatly speeds up the computations needed to draw pictures on the screen. These graphics chips, made by companies such as NVidia, have made possible the amazing graphics of modern games, and speeded up your browsing and spreadsheets on today’s high-resolution monitors.   But the wide variety of such hardware, and the software used as “drivers” to control them, means that different computers will render such pictures in subtly different ways.   Images rendered by the graphics hardware (and thus subtly different on different computers) can be created from within a browser, analysed and sent back to a web server.   On its own, this is not enough to uniquely identify a user. But when combined with information such as the browser name and version number, and the list of fonts available on the system, it can provide a unique “fingerprint” of a user’s computer.   This provides a tracking mechanism that can be operated across many websites; a “super-cookie” that can’t be deleted as it is inherent to the computer it’s running on.   Again, this is most intrusive if it can be combined with personally identifying information. But even without this, it is very much against the spirit of the cultural norm (and the EU law) that requires internet sites to explicitly gain the consent of their users to enable tracking.   The University of Leuven research indicates that around 5% of the world’s top 1,000 websites make some use of this fingerprinting method, which was originally identified by University of California researchers in 2012.   Interestingly, however, the vast majority of websites using browser fingerprinting had done so by incorporating a third-party element into their website.   Free tools come with a hidden price   The primary product of AddThis is sharing tools – an easy-to-add component that website developers can incorporate on their sites that allow visitors to easily share the page they are viewing on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.   While AddThis charges for some use of some these components, others are available for free. Free and good-looking website components are to website developers what honeypots are to bears, so it’s not surprising that they have been widely adopted.   But AddThis extracts an additional quid pro quo – collecting browser data about those who visit sites usings their tools, much more than either the visitors, or the website owners, would have realised.   AddThis’s Rich LaBarca said it carried out a six month test using the fingerprinting and that any data collected was used for “internal research”. The code has since been disabled.   But the White House blog on the website of the US President didn’t realise that incorporating AddThis tools to its website violated its own privacy policy.   Taking what most of us give away anyway   As a computer geek from way back, I can’t help but grudgingly respect the ingenuity of those who perfect these privacy-invading tools, even as I deplore their ethics.   But my outrage is also tempered by the knowledge that these companies are taking by stealth what most of us choose to give away freely to other companies.   As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff observed, we – or, more precisely, our personal information – are “products” to many online companies such as Facebook, Google and AddThis.   The greatest fortunes of the 21st century have been founded on collecting and exploiting the personal information of billions of people, with a level of detail that companies such as AddThis can only dream of accessing.   And they’ve found that providing an easy way for us to share webpages of amazing cat videos and pictures is compelling enough that most of us will freely give them that information.   So what of ethics?   Do those who actually build these technologies – the programmers, analysts, testers and other IT professionals – have any obligation to consider the ethics of the tools they build? In theory, they do.   The two largest global professional bodies of the IT profession – the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE-CS) – have jointly developed a Software Engineering Code of Ethics. The Australian Computer Society also has its own code of ethics.   Unfortunately – and unlike law, medicine or other fields of engineering – professional societies and their codes of ethics have virtually no influence within the information technology community.   Despite occasional efforts to set themselves up as gatekeepers through licensing, they have had little success. As such, however virtuous these codes of ethics may appear, they have no teeth.   Much as I would personally like it to be otherwise, it’s unlikely that attempts to violate the privacy of individuals will reduce through the self-regulation of IT professionals.   The financial incentives for companies to do so are likely to continue. Privacy protection will have to come through some combination of public pressure, legal means, and individual adoption of technical and behavioural countermeasures.   Robert Merkel receives has previously received Australian Research Council grants to investigate aspects of software testing and reliability.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meet the startup behind The Australian’s 50th birthday celebrations

7:38AM | Wednesday, 16 July

A Sydney-based startup was behind a website that formed part of The Australian’s 50th birthday celebrations.   The Your Storyline site was created by Native Empire, which took a lean startup approach to developing the app for News Corp.   Founder Andrew Tweedie told StartupSmart the business began about three years ago and operates out of tech hub Fishburners in Sydney.   “We’re building social and mobile engagement tools to help companies tell their brand’s stories to people in an engaging way,” he says. “And we’ve been doing this out of Fishburners, a community of startups.”   Tweedie says he came from a digital agency background but then decided to strike out on his own. This gave him the skills to deliver on what was “an interesting challenge”.   “The brief The Australian put to us was pretty broad but it was about the 50th anniversary meaning a lot to the newspaper,” he says. “But they wanted it to mean something to other people as well.”   In the end, Tweedie thought it would be best to give people the opportunity to relive The Australian’s stories over the past 50 years.   “We came up with the personal storyline where people could enter their birthday and match up with the front page from the day they were born.”   The project took off on Twitter, and Tweedie says it is “really cool” to see people engage with the website in the way he hoped they would.   The @australian is 50 - see the front page of the on the day you were born & key moments in your life: #ausstoryline — Neal Mann (@fieldproducer) July 15, 2014 my birthday - 1978-01-28 find yours with @Australian Storyline #ausstoryline — PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) July 15, 2014 Tweedie says working in a collaborative space such as Fishburners has been fundamental to Native Empire becoming the business it is today.   “It’s been probably the single greatest factor of our success,” he says. “It’s less about being a co-working space and more about a co-helping space.”   The entrepreneur also has some tips for those considering leaving their day job to create their own startup.   “First thing I would say is definitely do it,” he says. “We have got a great future ahead of us and we’re doing things we really want to do. Second thing I’d say is find other people to help you.”   News Corp is a sponsor of the Fishburners community.

When it comes to generating revenue, Twitter is the most valuable social channel in Australia

7:08PM | Sunday, 6 July

Events e-commerce platform Eventbrite, which officially launched in Australia in March, has released data to quantify the return on investment (ROI) social media is having on those who use it to promote and market their events.   By analysing all sales across its marketplace in 2013, Eventbrite found that a single share on social media generates nine visits to an event page and $4.80 in additional revenue back to Australian organizers. This compares with a return of $3.70 (AUD) globally.   Twitter shares are the most effective generating two to four times more revenue and pageviews than other social channels.   The findings from Eventbrite’s data analysis, which have not included Australia before, offer a great insight into the monetary and promotional value of a customer sharing through social channels – namely Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.   Eventbrite’s International Expansion Manager, Elsita Meyer-Brandt told StartupSmart that the findings could be extrapolated to other marketing activities though for their purposes they were purely focussed on events.   “The bottom line is that social media is an effective way for people to promote and generate revenue for those in the event space,” Meyer-Brandt says. “This is especially important for startups trying to build a community around their brand.”   The value of customers sharing on social media   Eventbrite’s data reveals that a share on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn drives an average of $4.80 in additional revenue back to the organizer.   Twitter drives the most value at $10.90 per share, followed by Facebook at $4.10 and then LinkedIn at $3.20.   “If you think about it, every share is essentially ‘free revenue’,” Meyer-Brandt says.   Social media is also proven to drive traffic, with a single share resulting in nine additional visits, on average. Again, Twitter leads this trend with one share generating 38 additional visits, while LinkedIn drives 11 visits per share and Facebook drives seven visits per share.   For additional sales, on average it takes four shares, with Twitter again being the most effective channel, with only two shares resulting in an additional sale, followed by Facebook and LinkedIn both at five.     Twitter is the most valuable social channel   Compared to Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter is by far the most effective driver of revenue and traffic in Australia. Over the last two years, Eventbrite has seen Twitter’s influence increase while Facebook’s has decreased.   Meyer-Brandt believes this is because Facebook feeds have become cluttered and news feeds are potentially becoming less relevant.   On the other hand, she says Twitter is less saturated, meaning less distraction for users.   “The 140 character limit means users often need to click on links to see more information,” Meyer-Brandt says.   Events that have the most social shares   The types of events that see the most value from social media sharing are food events and performances, followed by seminars and music events.   In comparison, conventions and participatory sports events slightly lower value. In terms of traffic, social and food events see the highest number of visits from social media posts, followed by seminars, conferences and then entertainment events.   Eventbrite has processed nearly $3 billion in ticket sales in 187 countries worldwide. Since launching in Australia in 2012, it has hosted over 75,000 local events and recently opened an APAC office in Melbourne.

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter snaps up ad tech firm Tap Commerce for close to $100 million

6:22PM | Monday, 30 June

Twitter has acquired advertising technology firm Tap Commerce for a price in the region of $100 million, sources have told Re/code.   The New York company is in the business of “re-targeting”, that is it convinces customers to return to the mobile apps they have downloaded.   Its clients include Fab and eBay.   In an announcement confirming the deal, but not the price, TapCommerce says nothing will change for its existing customers, but joining Twitter will enable the company to dedicate more resources to developing its product and expanding its services.   Google to shutdown Orkut   Orkut, Google’s first foray into social networking, will close on September 30, a decade after its creation.   Google says the decision comes due to the growth of YouTube, Blogger and Google+ communities, which have outpaced that of Orkut, and closing down Orkut will allow it to focus more energy and resources on those social platforms.   Google says it will preserve an archive of Orkut’s public communities.   MapR raises $110 million   MapR Technologies, which provides an enterprise Hadoop distribution used for marketing, operations and security has announced it has raised $110 million in funding led by Google Capital, Qualcomm Ventures and previous investors.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 25.24 to 16,826.60. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

Ex-Googler wants to help you crowdsource everyday decisions

6:24PM | Sunday, 29 June

Feeling indecisive? Want to delegate making a decision based on what your friends on social media think? Is your choice in style determined by what everyone else is wearing? Did your mother ever ask you if you’d jump off a cliff if all your friends did it too?   If so, there’s a new Android app set to launch that’s set to answer all your questions.   Known as Vich One, the app will allow users to create snap polls about everyday questions and situations for their friends to answer.   Founder Manish Jain, who recently left Google, says that crowdsourcing everyday decisions can help people to make better choices.   “The concept is that many people have questions in their life that need to be answered. Which movie to watch? Which dress to wear? Which food or cuisine to eat?” Jain says.   “And right now, there’s no platform to ask your friends those everyday questions.”   Upon posing a question, all of that user’s friends will get a notification showing their friend needs help and they have just 10 seconds to answer. The time limit is designed to add a sense of excitement and urgency to each vote.   Jain says that while he is looking at releasing Vich One for iOS and the “emerging platform” of Windows Phone in the future, the initial release will be for Android.   “In Australia, Android is the most widely used operating system for smartphones, so it makes sense to develop a version for it first… It won’t be on the web because the capabilities [to do an app like this] aren’t on the web,” Jain says.   Jain, who recently moved to Australia, proudly shares his experience as a former Googler who worked for the tech giant in Mountain View, California.   “I went to Singapore for my higher education. While at NTU [Nanyang Technological University] doing computer science, I got hired by Google as an intern,” Jain says.   “After eight months as an intern, I was hired by Google in Zurich where I worked for two years, then moved to the US for four years… overall, I worked for Google for around six-and-a-half years.”   With the app set to launch, there is no shortage of people willing to vote their approval for the app.   “We have a lot of followers already on Twitter, including big names at tech companies… and there’s been quite a few signups for people wanting to know more,” Jain says.

Five-star idea to make reviews more social wins university golden gong

6:03PM | Monday, 23 June

Revuudle wants to turn often mundane social media updates into meaningful reviews.   Founder of the Adelaide-based startup Luke Larsen says Revuudle’s core premise centres around turning people’s opinions expressed on social media, into quantifiable data by letting them share reviews with a five-star rating system.   “What would normally be meaningless sharing of experience becomes a data topic for review,” Larsen says.   “Using the power of social networks you can scale that to people in your area, people with similar tastes to you.   “It will allow you to review things that have never been possible before. You could review not just the movie, but the cinema, the restaurant you went to before the movie, literally the specific dish you ate at the restaurant.”   Last week the startup won the Gold eNVIe at the Flinders University New Venture Institute’s Venture Dorm awards and Innovation Showcase.   Larsen is developing an application programming interface (API) and apps for Revuudle across all platforms.   “I call it the social reviewing network,” he says.   “In the current ecosystem of user reviews there are many, many places for people to leave their reviews, but there’s not much incentive to do so.”   Larsen says there’s the potential to integrate the review platform with commercial websites, and it will be linked with the Facebook and Twitter accounts of users.   The silver eNVIe went to Kick it, an app to help smokers track their habit and quit smoking when they’re ready, while Floragram a service which delivers the best flowers from local markets, was the people’s choice winner.   The judging panel included Vinomofo co-founder and chief executive officer Andre Eikmeier, Adelaide Football Club general manager commercial and community projects Darrin Johnson and Commonwealth Bank private banker Sarah Sullivan.   “I was actually impressed with the quality of the pitches, given how early stage this program is,” Eikmeier says.   “Four or five real standouts for me, and I shall be following their progress keenly.   “The pitches themselves were polished, and most punched through even for the people or ideas I wasn’t as keen on.   “They have honed in on the problem/solution succinctly, which sets a business off on the right path.   “I’m also very impressed with Matt Salier, who is taking a very inclusive feeder approach with NVI, and I’ve got some confidence it will be a valuable contributor to this growing Adelaide startup ecosystem.”

Local Measure opens Singapore office with eyes on Asia-Pacific

6:02AM | Monday, 23 June

Location-based social B2B platform Local Measure, spun-off from now defunct consumer-focused Roamz, today announced the opening of an office in Singapore to support the company’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region.   According to a statement on the announcement, the Asian market has a big appetite for social media where social content is shared at a higher rate than any other market.   “There are many opportunities for Local Measure in Asia to help businesses in the region extract valuable insights from various social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare,” says Jonathan Barouch, founder and CEO of Local Measure.   “Expanding into APAC is an exciting next step in our growth plan.   “Businesses nowadays appreciate the value of real-time local insight and Local Measure provides the tools to capture what customers are saying publicly about their brand on social media, while they’re on the business’ premises.   We’ve developed a location-based customer intelligence tool that works for businesses of all sizes and across different languages.”   With existing clients who use Local Measure in Singapore like Spizza, SingTel, Gelatissimo and Qantas, the business has already established a presence in Singapore, long before the opening of the Singaporean office, but the move acknowledges the importance of having feet on the ground to service the specific requirements of the local market.   The Singapore office will be headed up by Gary Spero, vice president Asia at Local Measure.   Spero has been with the company for the past three years. His responsibilities will include growing Local Measure’s market share in Singapore and driving the Singaporean team to service the specific needs of the local market.

WhatsApp? Yo!

6:22AM | Thursday, 19 June

Yo.   It’s an app that could highlight the genius of simplicity or the stupidity of a generation. Yo is a smartphone app that allows you to contact friends with one word – yo.   The app launched on April 1 (no yoke) but has become something of an (we’re going to say it) internet sensation, even featuring in the Financial Times.   It gets worse/better with news that Yo has received some $1 million in funding from high profile investors.   Of course it’s run by a CEYO who has described it as “Twitter without tweets, Poke without the Facebook, Snapchat without the sexting risk.”   just setting up my Yo— Or Arbel (@orarbel) June 13, 2014   But, what does it all mean?   About psychology…   Success of the #yo #app confirms Scott Adam's hypothesis that entrepreneurship is often about behavioural psychology— Rushabh Mehta (@rushabh_mehta) June 19, 2014   About life…   Yelling into a noisy, crowded abyss—grasping for meaning. Yearning for a feeling, anything. #Yo— Aaron Edwards (@aaronmedwards) June 18, 2014   About love…   I used to have trouble talking to girls, but with #Yo app, that's not a problem. I know how to say all the right things.— Bohnna Chhim (@Bohnna) June 19, 2014  

Why Reset the Net falls short in protecting you from surveillance

6:35AM | Monday, 16 June

A year on from Edward Snowden’s revelations around state sponsored mass surveillance programs, some of the major players in the online and technological world (including Google, Mozilla, Twitter and Reddit) have launched the Reset the Net campaign.   The program aims to increase people’s awareness and uptake of privacy and security tools so they can better resist surveillance, particularly that conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).   While the campaign is laudable in its efforts to raise the issue of surveillance, there are some glaring oversights present.   A step in the right direction   Reset the Net seeks to challenge mass surveillance and help people to take back their privacy while online by encouraging patterns of behaviour that resist surveillance.   For individual users they suggest the use of apps with encrypted communications protocols (such as TOR or Chat Secure), and safer password choices.   More structural suggestions are provided for developers and administrators, such as the use of encryption as a part of a website or application, and the use of end-to-end encryption.   Encryption makes any collected data more difficult (but not impossible) for authorities to interpret and act upon.   These kinds of strategies do a great job at “target hardening” users and digital services against the collection of personal data, and they improve the general security of users online.   Vodafone announced this month that some governments allow their security agencies to connect directly into its network to conduct surveillance, so these kind of user based forms of resistance are a good starting point to counteracting some surveillance measures.   While these are positive achievements, they merely address some of the more visible consequences and implications of surveillance, and fail to address what are perhaps the most worrying aspects of contemporary surveillance.   Where the problems lie   The Reset the Net project acts to reinforce the idea that surveillance is primarily conducted by state authorities, with the NSA as the primary antagonist for this story.   But the reality is that the NSA is only one actor in the surveillance drama. As others have noted one of Reset’s biggest backers, Google, is also one of the biggest instigators of corporate surveillance.   Google collects enormous amounts of personal data every day, harvesting personal data from user’s browsing habits and email, while simultaneously calling for email to be encrypted against outside sources.   Google also uses its large range of products (such as Gmail and Google Docs) to data-mine every conceivable audience, including up until recently children.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. You are being monitored by many   Google is just one of many private companies conducting surveillance today, with supermarkets, insurance companies and many Fortune 1000 companies all monitoring customers on a daily basis.   This leads to the next issue with Reset the Net, and most counter-surveillance activities today: they don’t address the incredible amounts of data already circulating in surveillance databases.   Surveillance today is not just about seeing into the lives of the present – it’s about cataloguing and using the past (and present) to understand the future. Australia is no exception to this trend, as the government once again pushes for mandatory data retention.   As a part of the (so-called) development of big data, which allegedly can assist to generate new statistical insights from ultra-large data sets, the data collected from ubiquitous surveillance are increasingly being used as a part of predictive analytics.   Through these techniques a user’s future behaviours, actions and dispositions can be extrapolated from past data. While there are some possible positives here (such as better management of goods and services for business), the negative potentials are enormous.   Shaping the future   The use of algorithms and automated profiles can open the door to forms of control (and discrimination) that occur without any human input.   Through the power of code, corporate or government powerbrokers can reshape individual lives, automatically analysing and predicting possible outcomes for citizens and then determining their treatment, from seemingly random pieces of personal information.   As US sociologist Gary Marx has pointed out, no-one is innocent under such regimes of “new” surveillance, with all citizens viewed as a risk - what he calls categorical suspicion.   The focus on internet surveillance ignores that surveillance is not just on the internet, but everywhere. As recently pointed out, we live in a Sensor Society, with many aspects of daily life recorded through various sensor technologies.   From smartphones to drones, there are many possibilities for invasive surveillance today. The German newspaper Der Speigel has also pointed out that the NSA and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are at the forefront of developing new means of sensing individuals.   Once again Google is a part of these trends, recently purchasing a drone company and is reported to be bidding for the world’s largest home surveillance company.   The drama is just beginning   Internet surveillance is only one aspect of contemporary surveillance.   The Reset the Net project paradoxically represents a small positive step in resisting and counteracting warrantless and illegal surveillance, while ignoring the bigger picture.   There is a growing and ongoing disparity between the rights and powers of the watched (or sensed), and the watchers (or sensors). As both spectators and actors in this surveillance (or sensor) society, there is a need to be mindful of this bigger picture as we play our roles and choose our props, and recite (or improvise) our lines.   These are only the opening scenes of a much longer and difficult play. With no sign that the social or technological scope of surveillance will fade, we must play our parts wisely and critically, if we are to have any hope of a happy ending.   Peta Cook is a Senior Lecturer of Sociology at the University of Tasmania. Ashlin Lee is a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to start developing a web app using Ruby on Rails

6:11AM | Wednesday, 11 June

Recently, StartupSmart looked at developing web apps in PHP. However, many developers choose to use an alternative framework called Ruby on Rails.   So what does Ruby on Rails development entail and how do you get started?   StartupSmart spoke to freelance web developer and Melbourne Ruby group co-organiser Pat Allan to find out.   Allen explains that at its simplest, Ruby on Rails is made up of a programming language called Ruby and a web app development framework called Rails.   “Ruby is a dynamically typed programming language developed with programmer happiness in mind, and has been around for about 20 years now,” Allan says.   “Rails (or Ruby on Rails) is a framework for constructing web applications. It’s written in Ruby, and you write your own Ruby code to extend the framework to build your own apps (it’s not an app in its own right).”   A key feature of applications written in Rails, Allen explains, is that they are divided up into three parts, known as ‘models’, ‘views’ and ‘controllers’.   “From Rails’ perspective, the models are your data objects – e.g. user information, blog posts, purchase details – whatever data your app needs to use or create. This data is usually persisted in a relational database like PostgreSQL or MySQL,” Allan says.   “The views are the presentation layer of your web application – the HTML that the browser displays, and any manipulation of that HTML to display dynamic content, including data from your models.   “The controllers are the glue that connects views and models together – they load up specific data objects, and choose which views should be sent back to the browser.   The ability to extend the Rails framework comes by adding libraries of already written code, which are known as ‘Gems’.   “Gems are collections of Ruby code (libraries) with a focus on specific functionality. There are gems for dealing with Twitter, downloading files, mathematical computations, testing, complex data searching, and much, much more,” Allan says.   “The value of this is it saves you from having to re-invent the wheel. Quite often you can end up building on top of others’ hard work instead. Of course, if you can’t find a gem for what you need, you can write one yourself – everyone is allowed to publish gems.   “Rails itself is a handful of gems, broken out into (mostly) distinct features such as dealing with HTTP requests, interacting with databases, and connecting models, controllers and views.   For Allan, one of the key strengths of Ruby and Rails is its developer community, which includes events aimed at everyone from beginners to web veterans.   “There are a great deal of social events in the Ruby community, especially in Australia, with Rails Camps twice a year, a big conference once a year, occasional RailsGirls sessions, and numerous meet ups in most major cities. These events help us to connect with each other, share our knowledge, learn new things, find new opportunities for work, and make a few new friends,” Allan says.   “There are many online tutorials out there and a growing number of online courses as well. Peepcode’s videos (now part of PluralSight’s extensive library of content) are top notch and worth every dollar. Ryan Bates’ enduring legacy of RailsCasts is an amazing (and free!) resource, alongside his more detailed paid offering. Michael Hartl’s tutorials are another source of detailed information.   “Having mentors available in person can also be super helpful, though, which is why events like RailsGirls and InstallFests are so valuable.   Allan goes on to explain that the Melbourne Ruby group has its own Meetup group. From there, developers can find out information about its regular presentation evenings, hackfests and InstallFests, which are aimed at new developers.   Finally, Allan’s advice to anyone thinking about coding a web app in Ruby on Rails is to just get started.   “The more code you write, the deeper your understanding becomes, and then you can get a better understanding of other peoples’ code, which in turn helps you to learn new ways of doing things. This is becoming more and more easy given so much of the code we use (including Ruby gems) is open-sourced and available for everyone to peruse,” Allen says.   “The best way to become comfortable with Ruby (and programming generally) is to write a lot of code. Of course it’s likely not going to be great code at the beginning, but that’s fine.   “Finally: Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. All good developers are in a constant state of learning – technology is changing all the time – so there are always opportunities to ask questions and find out how another piece of the evolving puzzle works.”