All posts by The Grand Signal

Weekly Newsletter – March 16, 2014

This Week’s Top Stories

Edward Snowden appears on livestream at SxSW. This was the first time the NSA whistleblower addressed the US public since he leaked scandal in June. You can watch the full (non-optimized audio) interview on YouTube.

Omlet – A safe way to connect with friends. A start-up from the Stanford StartX incubator created a mobile messaging system and promises to never monetize or sell user data.

Bill Gates thinks cameras in inner cities could be a good thing. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gates said that cameras could be useful, specifically alluding to London where petty crime has gone down and terrorism prevented with the help of cameras.

The NSA’s plan to infect millions through malware. The Intercept revealed that the NSA has relied on more sophisticated techniques to siphon data from targets. One is a man-on-the-side attack where they disguise themselves as a Facebook server and are able send data packets to users containing malware.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee thinks the Web should have a bill of rights. With the 25-year anniversary of the Web, inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC that there should be a ‘Magna Carta’ bill of rights in order to protect users.

Zuckerberg called Obama to talk about surveillance. It doesn’t seem like there will be reform any time soon according to Zuckerberg. In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said, ”So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.”


Drones will cause an upheaval of society like we haven’t seen in 700 years. Noah Smith from Quartz talks about the dangers of drones and autonomous robots.

A look at how the Immunity Project handles HIV in the lab. The company developing a free vaccine for HIV shows how they work with the virus in their lab.


Bill Gates @ the University of Waterloo

Bill Gates: “Having cameras in inner cities is a very good thing: petty crime goes down & you catch terrorists”

Earlier this year, this magazine wrote on the increasing pervasiveness of cameras, particularly via drone technology, in our civilian ethos. As drones become increasingly more prominent, debate has swelled on the moral and ethical implications of what many describe as a “surveillance state”.

Bill Gates, billionaire philanthropist who needs no introduction, was recently pressed on the topic during a long interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The interview covered a lot of topics, ranging from his thoughts on Mark Zuckerberg, to condoms and everywhere in between. When asked on his thoughts on privacy concerns, Gates offered the following:

“Should there be cameras everywhere in outdoor streets? My personal view is having cameras in inner cities is a very good thing. In the case of London, petty crime has gone down. They catch terrorists because of it. And if something really bad happens, most of the time you can figure out who did it. There’s a general view there that it’s not used to invade privacy in some way. Yet in an American city, in order to take advantage of that in the same way, you have to trust what this information is going to be used for.”

via Rolling Stone

photo by: batmoo
Photo courtesy of
Håkan Dahlström on Flickr |

Omlet – A safe way to connect with friends

MobiSocial is a start-up from the StartX incubator at Stanford University. Their first product, Omlet, is a messaging app that keeps the data in control of the user. Users can share images, text, video, music with anyone using an iOS or Android device.

When data is shared between strangers, contact information is restricted. The company claims on their website that they’ll never monetize or sell user data.  Prior to founding in 2013, the company sustained itself through research grants.

ASUS  announced at the beginning of the year that all of their new ZenFones will come with Omlet chat.  The company’s overall mission is to create social networking experiences where the user is the customer as opposed to the product.

You can visit their website at

Photo courtesy of Håkan Dahlström on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann on Flickr |

Edward Snowden gives speech at SXSW – “Would I do it again? Absolutely.”

Snowden appeared before thousands of technologists at the South by South West Interactive Festival on Monday, marking the first time he addressed the United States public after leaking the NSA scandal in June.

He wasn’t present in person though, instead appearing on a livestream from Russia, where he currently resides after seeking asylum to the country with assistance from Wikileaks.

“Would I do it again? Absolutely. Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to,” said Snowden.

When asked via Twitter from Tim Berners-Lee,  the inventor of the World Wide Web,  about what he would change about the country’s government surveillance procedures, Snowden responded, “We need public oversight … some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we’re not informed, we can’t consent to these (government) policies.”

Snowden encouraged technologists to help build more user-friendly secure communication applications. Many it seems, have been listening, with companies such as BitTorrent and Mega pushing for more secure and easy to use services.

via CNN


Weekly Newsletter March

This Week’s Top Stories

Julian Assange delivered a speech at SXSW yesterday. Assange participated in a ‘virtual’ interview with Benjamin Palmer from the Barbarian Group to talk about surveillance and democracy on the web. A recording of the hour-long interview is on YouTube and The Guardian has also written a summary piece. Both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald will appear for virtual interviews on Monday.

Snowden tried to go through official channels over ten times before leaking the highly controversial NSA program. The Washington Post reported that Snowden reached out to over 10 officials before finally taking matters into his own hands. The NSA previously told the Washington Post that Snowden never made any attempt to do so.

Experts say government cyber-intelligence is compromising online securitySan Francisco held the annual RSA conference last week where cyber enthusiasts gathered from all around the world. Many security experts are worried that the tools used by the NSA could be acquired by black-hat hackers.

A Vietnamese blogger was sentenced to two years in prison for “abusing democratic reforms”. Truong Duy Nhat was convicted under article 258 of the penal code. Nhat denied that he broke the law in his criticisms of the government, but his defense didn’t hold up in court.

Wikileaks cable from 2006 hinted at possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. Joshua Keating from Slate uncovered cables on Wikileaks dating back to 2006 that foreshadowed the events that have unfolded in Ukraine. The cable warned of instability in Crimea and the potential threat from pro-Russians.

British politician accuses Google of storing private patient data. Prominent Tory MP Sarah Wollaston brought to light that private health data from the NHS is being stored on Google servers. Wollaston tweeted, “So HES [hospital episode statistics] data uploaded to ‘google’s immense army of servers’, who consented to that?”

Facebook is rumored to be acquiring solar-powered drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace for $60 million. Sources from TechCrunch indicate that Facebook is purchasing the drone manufacturer to help increase internet access in the developing world. Facebook wants to ensure that every new user connected to the internet starts using Facebook.

Eurotech companies using streetlights to expand cellphone coverage. The average US mobile phone user consumed 1.2 gigabytes of data a month over cellular networks which was double the average amount used in 2012. European based companies Ericsson and Phillips revealed a new project last Monday which will incorporate cellphone antennas into LED streetlights.


Has Privacy Become a Luxury? Long gone are the days when we had to pay for news and mail. It’s not cheap to buy privacy, as Julia Angwin on the New York Times explains.

Government Surveillance – This is Just the Beginning. Privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian gave a TED talk (8 minutes) on the proliferation of private enterprises selling surveillance software to governments around the world. 

A Visit to Haiti, and the biggest Hellraiser I Know. Bill Gates recounts his visit to Haiti last week and the tremendous work Paul Farmer has done with Partners in Health (PIH), a non-profit that runs medical clinics at 12 sites in Haiti.