Category Archives: Cloud Computing

How the Government Hides Secret Surveillance Programs

In 2013, 18-year-old Tadrae McKenzie robbed a marijuana dealer for $130 worth of pot at a local Taco Bell in Tallahassee, Florida. He and two friends had used BB guns to carry out the crime, which under Florida law constituted robbery with a deadly weapon. McKenzie braced himself to serve the minimum four years in prison.

But in the end, a state judge offered McKenzie a startlingly lenient plea deal: He was ordered to serve only six months’ probation, after pleading guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor. The remarkable deal was related to evidence McKenzie’s defense team uncovered before the trial: Law enforcement had used a secret surveillance tool often called Stingray to investigate his case.

Stingrays are devices that behave like fake cellphone towers, tricking phones into believing they’re pinging genuine towers nearby. By using the device, cops can determine a suspect’s precise location, outgoing and incoming calls, and even listen-in on a call or see the content of a text message.

McKenzie’s lawyers suspected cops had used a Stingray because they knew exactly where his house was, and knew he left his home at 6 a.m. the day he was arrested. The cops had obtained a court order from a judge to authorize Verizon to hand over data about the location of Mckenzie’s phone. But cell tower data isn’t precise enough to place a device at a specific house.

The cops also said they used a database that lets law enforcement agencies locate individuals by linking them with their phone numbers. But the phone McKenzie was using was a burner, and not associated with his name. Law enforcement couldn’t adequately explain their extraordinary knowledge of his whereabouts.

The state judge in the case ordered police to show the Stingray and its data to McKenzie’s attorneys. They refused, because of a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. The state then offered McKenzie, as well as the two other defendants, plea deals designed to make the case go away.

The cops in McKenzie’s case had ultimately failed to successfully carry out a troubling technique called “parallel construction.”

First described in government documents obtained by Reuters in 2013, parallel construction is when law enforcement originally obtains evidence through a secret surveillance program, then tries to seek it out again, via normal procedure. In essence, law enforcement creates a parallel, alternative story for how it found information. That way, it can hide surveillance techniques from public scrutiny and would-be criminals.

A new report released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday, based in part on 95 relevant cases, indicates that law enforcement is using parallel construction regularly, though it’s impossible to calculate exactly how often. It’s extremely difficult for defendants to discern when evidence has been obtained via the practice, according to the report.

“When attorneys try to find out if there’s some kind of undisclosed method that’s been used, the prosecution will basically stonewall and try not to provide a definitive yes or no answer,” says Sarah St. Vincent, the author of the report and a national security and surveillance researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In investigation reports, law enforcement will describe evidence obtained via secret surveillance programs in inscrutable terms. “We’ve seen plenty of examples where the police officers in those reports write ‘we located the suspect based on information from a confidential source;’ they use intentionally vague language,” says Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology project. “It sounds like a human informant or something else, not like a sophisticated surveillance device.”

Sometimes, when a savvy defense attorney pushes, an unbelievable plea deal is offered, or the the case is dropped entirely. If a powerful, secret surveillance program is at stake, a single case is often deemed unimportant to the government.

“Parallel construction means you never know that a case could actually be the result of some constitutionally problematic practice,” says St. Vincent. For example, the constitutionality of using a Stingray device without a warrant is still up for debate, according to the Human Rights Watch report. Some courts have ruled that the devices do violate the Fourth Amendment.

Hemisphere, a massive telephone-call gathering operation revealed by The New York Times in 2013, is one of the most well-documented surveillance programs that government officials attempt to hide when they use parallel construction. The largely secret program provides police with access to a vast database containing call records going back to 1987. Billions of calls are added daily.

In order to create the program, the government forged a lucrative partnership with AT&T, which owns three-quarters of the US’s landline switches and much of its wireless infrastructure. Even if you change your number, Hemisphere’s sophisticated algorithms can connect you to your new line by examining calling patterns. The program also allows law enforcement to have temporary access to the location where you placed or received a call.

The Justice Department billed Hemisphere as a counter-narcotics tool, but the program has been used for everything from Medicaid fraud to murder investigations, according to documentation obtained in 2016 by The Daily Beast.

“What Hemisphere’s capabilities allow it to do is to identify relationships and associations, and to build people’s social webs,” says Aaron Mackey, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “It’s highly likely that innocent people who are doing completely innocent things are getting swept up into this database.”

The EFF filed Freedom of Information Act and Public Records Act requests in 2014 seeking info about Hemisphere, but the government only provided heavily redacted files. So the EFF filed a lawsuit in 2015. It’s currently waiting for a California judge to decide whether more information can be made public without impeding law enforcement’s work.

“[The government] is obscuring what we believe to be warrantless or otherwise unconstitutional surveillance techniques, and they’re also jeopardizing a defendant’s ability to obtain all the evidence that’s relevant,” says Mackey.

Parallel construction can also involve a simple event like a traffic stop. In these instances, local law enforcement follows a suspect and then pulls them over for a mundane reason, like failing to use a turn signal. While the stop is meant to look random, cops are often working on a tip they received from a federal agency like the DEA.

“Sometimes when tips come through, the federal authorities don’t even tell the local authorities what they’re looking for,” says St. Vincent. The tip could be as simple as to watch out for a car at a specific place and time.

These stops are referred to as “wall off” or “whisper” stops, according to the Human Rights Watch report. In these instances, local law enforcement has to find probable cause for pulling the suspect over to avoid disclosing the tip. The tip is then never mentioned in court, and instead the beginning of the investigation is said to be the “random” stop.

The Human Rights Watch report concludes that Congress should pass legislation forbidding the use of parallel construction because it impedes on the right to a fair trial. Some representatives, like Republican Senator Rand Paul, have also called for banning the practice.

Opponents of parallel construction believe it should be outlawed because it prevents judges from doing their jobs. “It really gives a lot of power to the executive branch,” says St. Vincent. “It cuts judges out of the role of deciding whether something was legally obtained.”

One of the most concerning aspects of the practice is it shields government surveillance technology from public scrutiny. Stingrays, the cellphone-tracking device used in the Florida robbery case, have existed for years, but they’ve only recently been disclosed to the public. Lawyers and legal scholars haven’t yet conclusively decided whether their use without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, in part because so little is known about them. That means many people may have been convicted using techniques that violated their rights.

In the future, if the government hides new surveillance technology like facial recognition, the public will be unable to discern if it’s biased or faulty. Unless judges and citizens understand how surveillance techniques are used, we also can’t evaluate their constitutionality.

The public needs to determine if hiding surveillance programs is something it’s comfortable with at all. On one hand, keeping certain techniques secret likely helps authorities apprehend criminals. But if we don’t know how at least the basic contours of how a program works, it’s hard to have any discussion at all.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Nvidia partners with Uber, Volkswagen in self-driving technology

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Nvidia Corp will partner with Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) as the graphics chipmaker’s artificial intelligence platforms make further gains in the autonomous vehicle industry.

The company, which already has partnerships in the industry with companies such as carmaker Tesla and China’s Baidu, makes computer graphics chips and has also been expanding into technology for self-driving cars.

CEO Jensen Huang told an audience at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas that Uber’s self-driving car fleet was using Nvidia technology to help its autonomous cars perceive the world and make split-second decisions.

Uber has been using Nvidia’s GPU computing technology since its first test fleet of Volvo SC90 SUVS were deployed in 2016 in Pittsburgh and Phoenix.

Uber’s autonomous driving program has been shaken this year by a lawsuit filed in San Francisco by rival Waymo alleging trade secret theft.

Nevertheless, Nvidia said development of the Uber self-driving program had gained steam, with one million autonomous miles being driven in just the past 100 days.

With Volkswagen, Nvidia said it was infusing its artificial intelligence technology into the German automakers’ future lineup, using Nvidia’s new Drive IX platform. The technology will enable so-called “intelligent co-pilot” capabilities based on processing sensor data inside and outside the car.

So far, 320 companies involved in self-driving cars – whether software developers, automakers and their suppliers, sensor and mapping companies – are using Nvidia Drive, formerly branded as the Drive PX2, the company said.

Nvidia also said its first Xavier processors would be delivered to customers this quarter. The system on a chip delivers 30 trillion operations per second using 30 watts of power.

Bets that Nvidia will become a leader in chips for driverless cars, data centers and artificial intelligence have more than doubled its stock price in the past 12 months, making the Silicon Valley company the third-strongest perfomer in the S&P 500 during that time.

Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Susan Thomas

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

8 Big Predictions for Platforms in 2018

It’s that time of year again. Last year we made 7 predictions for 2017. By our count we went 7 for 7. So with 2018 primed to be a big year for platforms, here are our 8 predictions for platform businesses in 2018.

1.     No mainstream blockchain breakthrough, but several more cryptocurrencies explode in value

The Bitcoin and blockchain hype train rolls on. Much like AR and VR a year ago, Bitcoin is getting its moment in the media spotlight This year Bitcoin peaked just shy of $20,000 before cratering back to earth. But it still ended the year up 16x over its value on January 1, 2017, when it just topped $1,000. We aren’t predicting where it will end up this time next year – truthfully, nobody knows.

So far, most of Bitcoin’s, and the blockchain’s value is speculative. Despite a massive influx of investment and speculative cash this year, they still have no proven mainstream applications. Expect that to continue for 2018. While blockchain technology remains promising, there are still a host of challenges left to solve before it’s ready for prime time. It’s still at least a couple years away.

2.     Major tech unicorns start to go public

Last year produced a solid pipeline of tech IPOs, but 2018 should be even bigger. This year should see the first wave of the mega-unicorn platform startups going public.

While Uber is likely still more than a year away – not withstanding its cultural and legal problems, the company still has to figure out a path to profitability – Airbnb and Lyft look like contenders to go public. Other outside contenders include Slack and Pinterest. Airbnb, reportedly already profitable, is our pick for this year, but expect at least two major platform startups to hit public markets in the next twelve months.

3.     IoT gains traction with machine manufacturers

The Internet of Things hype cycle has come and gone over the last few years with little to show for it in terms of mainstream success. Yet in the background, investment and enthusiasm has been building for IoT in the industrial sector. Though GE has struggled and failed to achieve its goal of becoming a modern monopoly around the Internet of Things, many other companies have been experimenting successfully.

We expect 2018 to be the year where many of these smaller investments start to pay off. Early platform players will emerge this year in this area.

While it may take a few years for the winners to emerge, the Industrial Internet of Things will start to take practical shape in 2018.

4.     Large US platform companies take cues from China and start experimenting with more financial services

In China, Alibaba’s spinoff company, Ant Financial, has sparked a revolution in financial services. In a country that has lacked for consumer investment options, Ant and Alibaba rival Tencent have built large financial services platforms on top of their payment platforms.

Platforms in the U.S., both blessed with and challenged a much more robust financial services sector, have looked at their Chinese counterparts with envy. But slowly, this gap has started to narrow. Amazon, for example, has successfully been lending to merchants on its marketplace.

Over the next year, expect to see more of the major platforms experiment with offering financial products. The potential here is massive, and many banks aren’t exactly popular with consumers. While progress will be much slower than it was in China, for the major U.S. platforms it’s too big to ignore.

5.     Walmart continues its success due to Jet.com and its renewed platform approach

One of the biggest platform stories of the last year was Walmart’s newfound success. After years of failing in its efforts to combat Amazon, Walmart gained ground. Its acquisition of Jet.com has paid off handsomely as Walmart has begun to win back digital customers and merchants to its marketplace as well as to Jet’s.

This stark reversal will continue in 2018, as Walmart truly emerges as the second dominant player behind Amazon for ecommerce marketplaces. As we wrote at the time, Walmart’s acquisition of Jet was an expensive price to pay for second place, but it’s a move that will prove well worth the investment.

6.     Alexa continues to explode, but competition increases

This is the first of our predictions that continue from last year. After multiple failed attempts at building development platforms, we predicted that Alexa would be a big success. And in 2017, it was. Over the last year, Alexa has gone from a voice service on a handful of niche devices to a platform present on a growing number of hardware devices – many of them not made by Amazon – and supported by a large developer ecosystem.

Alexa’s success will continue in 2018, as it has become a centerpiece of Amazon’s future growth. However, given the promise of voice as a new interface, all the major platforms will continue to pour investment into their own voice development platforms. So far Google is the largest competitor, but expect to see more in 2018 from Facebook, Microsoft and others, such as Baidu in China. For now, Alexa remains the dominant number one in voice, but by the end of the year we expect a clear challenger to emerge.

7.     Modern monopolies face more political scrutiny

This was another of our predictions from last year – that platforms would become hot-button political topics. And boy did they ever. From fake news to Uber’s legal troubles, Google’s antitrust case in the EU, and the occasional presidential rant about Amazon, platforms were never far from the media and political spotlight.

And this issue isn’t going anywhere soon. Given platforms growing economic dominance, the unresolved challenge of how they should be handled politically will gather more attention this year. So far, these discussions have resulted in a lot of opinion pieces but little actual legislation. In 2018, that will likely start to change, as governments grapple with the economic and political implications of the growth of modern monopolies.

8.     More linear players engage in platform innovation by either building or buying

Last year we predicted that more linear enterprises would look at platform startups as big acquisition targets. And 2017 saw a host of major platform acquisitions, including IKEA buying Taskrabbit, Caterpillar acquiring Yard Club and Wyndham Hotels buying Love Home Swap. Verizon also finally bought Yahoo, which includes platforms like Tumblr. Other enterprises have taken a build approach, such as Klockner, a German metals company that announced at its recent Capital Markets Day its plans to launch a marketplace in 2018.

In 2018, we will see this trend continue in a big way, as more large enterprises come under pressure from platform businesses. Those who don’t launch platforms, like Grainger in 2017, will continue to struggle. While those that embrace platform innovation like Walmart will see much greater success.

All in all, 2018 will be a major year for platform businesses. Check this space for the latest major platform news!

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

GoPro Lays off Hundreds of Workers In Its Karma Drone Unit

GoPro’s new year has begun with a round of layoffs, primarily affecting the company’s Karma drone business unit.

Around 200 to 300 workers were laid off this week, according to a report Thursday by tech news site TechCrunch that cites unnamed sources. The report highlights an internal letter to laid off workers that said the cuts were intended to “to better align our resources with business requirements.”

The layoffs highlight GoPro’s ongoing struggle to turn itself around after a turbulent past few years in which its stock has plummeted 91% from a high of $93.70 in Aug 2014 to $7.52 on Friday.

The company has attempted to expand beyond its core video camera business by creating a media and entertainment unit and making drones. But those efforts have failed to catch on, and the company has implemented multiple rounds of layoffs and shuttered its media business.

Investors were particularly hopeful that GoPro’s Karma drone would help lift sales, but the push encountered trouble from the get-go. Shortly after debuting the drone in the fall of 2016, it recalled thousands of them because of a glitch that caused them to abruptly turn off and fall from the sky.

Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.

Even after fixing the technical error, GoPro’s (gpro) drone never appeared to be a big seller. Although CEO Nick Woodman would say he was optimistic about the drone business, he avoided saying when he thought drone sales would eventually lift the company’s overall sales.

GoPro never released sales numbers for its drone, but the numbers are likely to be small compared to Chinese rival DJI, which analysts currently say dominates the drone market.

Fortune contacted GoPro for more information and will update this story if it responds.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

This 1 Simple Habit Is the Only Financial Resolution You'll Need to Save Money in 2018

Let’s face it. New Year’s resolutions generally don’t work. We are motivated for a couple weeks and then life gets in the way. We go back to our old habits.

I am a fan of establishing big, audacious goals. But when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, we are typically setting ourselves up for failure.

Money is stressful.

It’s no wonder that many New Year’s resolutions are financial related. Money is a major cause of stress for Americans and a big cause of divorce. Poor financial habits are a big cause for concern.

But when we speak of improving our finances, we speak in terms of things we need to do. Just consider the following typical New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Cut up our credit cards (and make a commitment to not using them again)
  2. Get a new higher paying job
  3. Save money and build an emergency fund
  4. Pay down consumer debt
  5. Buy a house
  6. Start a business

While these may be great accomplishments, they are all actions you must take. But I am not talking about actions. I am looking to change your mindset. That’s why your only financial goal for the new year should be to — live below your means.

You see as a nation we have a spending problem. In my decades as a CPA, I have advised people from all income levels. One thing is for sure, we tend to spend what we make. The client who makes $1 million a year tends to spend all of it, just like the client who makes $50,000 a year.

In fact, I have a client who makes over $1 million a year and always complains to me that she can’t put food on the table. I know that she is exaggerating a bit, but you get my point.

So how far is enough?

How far below your means should you live? I recommend starting with 10 percent, but I have clients that save in excess of 50 percent. Whatever your goal is, you must make that commitment. Make sure that after you pay your bills you have this minimum amount left over.

This one rule will address all the other financial resolutions. For example, this extra amount may allow you to pay off credit cards, start an emergency fund, buy a rental home, build your investments, start a business, etc.

Unfortunately, we often believe that if our income goes up our spending should go up as well. If we get a raise at work or our business is doing well then we should turn around and buy a new car or a larger house. I, for example, have been living in my house for almost 16 years even though my income has increased over that period of time. Should I have bought a larger home because I “deserved” it? I think not.

Focus on your net worth.

We focus too much on our income and expenses and too little on our assets and liabilities. Net worth is what really matters. Assets are all of the things that you own (your home, furniture, investments, retirement accounts, etc) and your liabilities are what you owe (student loans, mortgage, credit cards, etc.). Subtract your assets from your liabilities and hopefully this is a positive number. If it’s not, living below your means will help.

I admit it. Changing your financial mindset can be really tough. But in order to accomplish what you want financially it is critical. If you live below your means the rest will take care of itself. Make it your one and only financial resolution.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

This 5-Star Hotel Just Ruined Its Online Reputation By Getting the Police to Help Kick Out a Guest (He's Famous)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

You’d think that five-star hotels would be used to catering to the famous.

You’d even think that they research their guests beforehand to make sure they can surprise them with personal touches.

But then there were the peculiarly personal touches offered by the Boca Raton Resort, a Waldorf Collection Hotel to one of its New Year guests.

Vitaly Zdorovetskiy is a very well-known YouTube star. He makes prank videos. People like them.

However, once the Boca Raton Resort discovered who he is, it decided it didn’t like him after all.

All we currently have is Zdorovetskiy’s explanation. 

Well, that and the video, in which hotel personnel arrive with two police officers to have him removed on New Year’s Eve. 

It seems, though, unclear what he’d done wrong, other than be who he is. 

He says he wasn’t going to film anything in the hotel. Indeed, he had his girlfriend with him, rather than his equipment.

Still, watch and listen to his story and see what you think. (Warning: His language isn’t pristine.)

[embedded content]

It seems that it all started with a phone call from the hotel to his room, which Zdorovetskiy didn’t want to take.

But can it be that the next step was for management knock on his door to check whether he intends to make prank videos in the hotel?

Now YouTube stars aren’t like you and me. Zdorovetskiy’s own admission is that he may have told the manager to go away in a rather rude-imentary manner because he wanted to sleep.

Within the hour, though, he says a manager broke into his room with a couple of police officers to have him removed.

He claims they ordered him and his girlfriend, who was naked at the time, to get dressed in front of them.

A man who appears to be a manager accuses him of posting a prank video the day before — but not one at the hotel.

The manager seems, indeed, to have no idea what the video was. 

Still, some might wonder whether the hotel thought through its strategy as thoroughly as it might have done. 

Naturally, being a YouTube star, Zdorovetskiy encouraged his 9 million followers to post poor reviews of the hotel. 

He encouraged them to go to Expedia, Hotels.com and Priceline. These weren’t affected.

He also encouraged them to go on Yelp.

At the time or writing, the Boca Raton Resort has sunk to a one-and-a-half star rating on Yelp.

Perhaps Yelp doesn’t matter — it certainly doesn’t to me — but a general flow of online ill-will toward a hotel is rarely a good thing.

And, in this case, surely it could have been avoided.

The senior manager explained to Zdorovetskiy that “due to the nature of your postings, we reserve the right as a private company to have you removed from the property and not do business with you.” 

Some might find this explanation odd, as the very same manager admitted he had no idea what Zdorovetskiy had posted.

Worse, he then told him that he’s being “trespassed” for one year. This means that if he returns in that time, he’ll be arrested. 

And all for, well, what?

I contacted the Waldorf Astoria to wonder what it thought of its staff’s behavior and will update, should a response be forthcoming.

Zdorovetskiy does have something of a reputation. 

He was arrested last year after climbing the HOLLYWOOD sign. 

He was also charged with criminal trespass after streaking during the World Series.

I can’t say I warm to his public charm at all.

But some famous people are very different in private.

It’s odd that the hotel didn’t seem to know who he was when it accepted his booking.

Moreover, if the manager had told him he’d done something — behaved rudely toward a member of staff, for example — it would have been entirely understandable that he’d be removed.

Yet to expressly look a guest in the face and say they’re being kicked out and banned for a year — just because of the videos they make — seems exactly like the haughty half-wittery many might expect from one or two snooty establishments.

But only one or two, surely. 

Some will say that the mere chance that the hotel might suffer damage of some sort justifies its stance.

To which I wonder: So how do rock stars ever get into a hotel?

Now, what are the chances that members of Zdorovetskiy’s team will pay a secret visit to the Boca Raton Resort and really have a good time?

High, I’d say.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Blockchain Takes a Shot at Redefining the Sports Betting Experience

In 2018, hundreds of sports betting sites and apps allow bettors to gamble discretely from just about anywhere through their smartphones. This convenience has attracted more users to participate in the action.

Traditional payment services like banks and digital wallets have been wary of supporting online gambling, leaving room for specialized payments gateways to facilitate bankroll funding and payouts. There’s also no shortage of handicapper sites and services that offer paid analyses to less savvy gamblers.

Unfortunately, the involvement of these parties brings enhanced risk of fraud and failure. Gambling payment gateways are constantly under threat from cyber-criminals. Handicappers also don’t quite produce the wins that they promise to bettors. As such, there are opportunities for blockchain – a technology that promotes shared trust – to address these issues.

Several blockchain efforts have set their sights on bettors’ needs. For example, emerging digital currency Electroneum envisions its token to be used by online gambling services. BlitzPredict provides bettors trustworthy insights through its aggregation service. Platforms like HEROcoin even aim to decentralize sports betting.

Success of these efforts could all help create better betting experiences. Here are three ways how these blockchain services can accomplish that goal.

1 – Easier Funding and Payouts

Payments using blockchain can be completed quicker compared to traditional means. Tokens do not have to be routed through different financial institutions and clearing houses. Winnings can either be readily credited to the user’s bankroll or to a token wallet. Since tokens are now fungible assets, bettors also have the option to transfer tokens to exchanges and trade them for other crypto or fiat currencies.

However, crypto tokens aren’t without their quirks. For instance, it can be hard to tell how much a bet made in Bitcoin is actually worth in fiat currency. For ordinary people, it’s easier to discern the value of “$50” compared to “0.003 BTC.” Interestingly, Electroneum addresses this by limiting its token to two decimal places just like fiat currencies. This way, users could have an easier time estimating or converting mentally making use of crypto tokens for gambling more bettor friendly.

2 – Trustworthy Insights

Blockchain startup BlitzPredict aims to provide insights by aggregating sportsbooks and prediction markets much like a stock market ticker. This helps bettors determine which sportsbook provides them with the best possible outcomes for a given bet. The platform also enables bettors to use blockchain smart contracts to automatically place bets when certain conditions are met.

Alternatively, bettors can subscribe to handicapper services that could supposedly point them to better odds. However, the credibility of many of these so-called sports “experts” have been called to question. Many offer tips and promise sure wins for a fee even if they don’t have the credentials to back their “expertise” or the data to support their picks.

In order to promote quality insights, BlitzPredict also allows analytics enthusiasts to share their prediction models to other users. High-performing models are rewarded with the platform’s own token which could then be used to place bets using the platform. Such a rewards mechanism encourages bettors to make data-driven decisions rather than settle for hunches or bad advice.

3 – Transparent Betting

Sportsbooks are often set up so that the house always wins. Even the reputable ones will have to make money by taking a cut from transactions. Without aggregation and advanced analytics, bettors are not only likely to lose in the long term, but they may also have to absorb the cost of these cuts and fees for all the transactions they conduct.

Platforms such as HEROcoin challenge this system by offering decentralized peer-to-peer betting. Through smart contracts, bettors are free to define the conditions of wagers. Blockchain’s transparency lets users trace the flow of money and the terms.

Fair Wagers

Sports betting is still a growing market and the expansion of betting to other segments such as esports is bringing in new participants. In esports alone, studies predict that more than $23 billion will be wagered by 2020. New services should strive to create easier and more positive experiences for the benefit of these new bettors joining the scene.

Fortunately, blockchain startups are already bringing transparency and trust into such activities. The use of crypto tokens could help address the lengthy and costly funding and payout processes. Better analytics and aggregation could also aid discerning bettors in making effective picks. Smart contracts can provide secure mechanisms for parties to enter and execute wagers.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Here Are 3 Things That Perpetuate Dishonesty, and 3 Ways to Thwart It

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. In the race to make it to the top, some values often get dropped along the way. Among these stands out one; namely, honesty.

Car salesmen. Stock investors. Overzealous entrepreneurs. We all know the cliches, and we’ve all heard the stories of scams and cover-ups.

But what is it that drives people to cross boundaries to the point of deceiving customers, employees, and the world at large? Additionally, knowing all the risks associated, why would anyone resort to fraud or cheating to succeed in business?

The answer is that people don’t think too much. We’d prefer to remain blind and be able to follow temptations. But do a bit of investigation, and you’ll quickly learn how to re-frame your mind to stay on the straight path of honesty. Below are a few points to get your gears turning.

1. We think honesty slows us down.

Come on, when was the last time anyone actually read all the terms and conditions? This world runs on a fast pace, and people simply don’t have patience to go through the motions of every task. When we can cut corners, we will.

But when you’re running a company, your decisions have a ripple effect on the market you’re serving. According to an October 2014 study by Cohn & Wolfe, a global communications and public relations firm, honesty is the number one thing consumers want from brands.

So if you don’t want your startup to become a statistic of the 90 percent that fail, on average, make sure to stick to the truth when it comes to your brand. It’ll set you up for success in the long run!

2.  We think we won’t get caught.

It’s midnight on a desolate rural road — who will see you run through a red light? Similarly, who would notice if you slipped an extra unlisted ingredient into a product, or told a customer half the truth, being that they wouldn’t be shrewd enough to pick up on it anyway?

These moral quandaries can be paralleled to the famous riddle: “If a tree falls in a forest where no one is around, does it make a sound?” Perhaps it makes a sound, perhaps it doesn’t, depending on who you ask.

But the tree fell, that’s for sure.

We’re beyond kindergarten. We shouldn’t be living our lives in fear of punishment from legal authorities; and conversely, in celebration of victories acquired through dishonest means. That’s a pretty juvenile mindset, and no corporation can stand on the feet of those tenets for long.

Maybe you won’t get caught at first. But repeat dishonest practices will ultimately stain your reputation, because people aren’t stupid and eventually things come to light. All it takes is one small suspicion and you’re doomed. At best, you lose a customer; at worst, you’ll wind up in jail, like Martha Stewart did in 2004.

3.  It’s the norm.

It’s the sad truth, According to a University of Massachusetts study led by psychologist Robert S. Feldman, 60% of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies.

However, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s right. Everyone can hold themselves up to higher standards — it just takes a conscious awareness, and a lot of effort to train oneself to be honest.

Honesty is (indeed) the best policy.

But refreshingly, it’s also quite common to find businesses that run according to the principle of honesty as the best policy.

Companies all over the world are starting to not just recognize the values of honesty, but live by them. “In our business, honesty and transparency is the oxygen of our existence,” states Mati Cohen of Pesach in Vallarta, a holiday hotel program.

This echoes of the founding principles of Buffer, a social media company that embraces the coined term ‘radical transparency’; all its salaries are public and there are no secrets amongst employees, which eliminates much of the animosity that is ever-present in many workplaces.

Tirath Kamdar, co-founder and CEO of jewelry and watch company TrueFacet, says that his company runs by these standards. “The alarmingly opaque nature of the luxury watch and jewelry market motivated us to create TrueFacet. Our goal is to bring transparency back to consumers. We set the standard for jewelry and watches at market value, allowing customers to obtain these products for the most fair price. This is why our customers return time and again.”

Developing Honesty.

Nurturing this character trait requires hard work and patience. Make it a point to recognize how often you utter even little white lies, and correct yourself when you slip.

Because, after all, honesty is the best policy.

***Liba Rimler contributed to this article

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

7 Tools to Streamline Your Business Operations

When you’re running your own business, every minute is valuable. You can’t afford to waste any time. But with so much on your plate and limited hours in the day, how do you make sure everything gets done – and done right?

The success of your business depends on your business operations. In his autobiography, “Iacocca,” business leader Lee Iacocca writes, “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits.” You need to keep all three organized and running smoothly for your business to operate effectively.

With the help of a few tools and technologies, it’s easier than ever to run your business with efficiency. And with operations under control and moving things along, you’ll be able to spend more time focusing on running your business – and boosting your bottom line.

Here are the seven tools you need to improve your business operations.

1. Trello

In her book, “The Outstanding Organization,” business consultant Karen Martin writes, “Chaos is the enemy of any organization that strives to be outstanding.” To combat that chaos, a project management tool such as Trello is necessary.

Trello allows you to organize and manage an entire project from start to finish. You create cards for each task needed and assign those cards to the task owner. You can assign deadlines, add comments and track progress as each card moves through to completion.

2. Slack

You could have a million business operations tools, but without open communication among your team, you’re going to have problems. Slack offers a user-friendly online chat that helps teams stay in contact all day – no matter where they are.

In Slack, you can create conversation threads on a specific topic, so when you’re working on a project, all the communication about that project will be in one place. This way, it’s easy to collaborate and make decisions quickly.

3. PandaDoc

Paperwork is a tedious part of business, and with so much going digital, it’s a hassle to still rely on paper for things like contracts, proposals and quotes. By using a document management software like PandaDoc, you won’t need to print and scan in documents. Instead, everything is handled digitally.

The tool allows you to create, send and track documents – all in one place. It also has the option of e-signatures. With everything streamlined in one tool, the time you spend on documents is greatly reduced, freeing you up for other important business tasks.

4. Freshbooks

According to a survey by the National Association of Small Businesses, the number one challenge of running a business is economic uncertainty. Managing finances can be stressful, especially if you’re doing it all on your own.

Freshbooks offers an easy and simplified system for managing your finances. You can track your expenses, send invoices and manage your books with minimal effort. Accounting is fast and secure, giving you more time to devote to other areas of your business.

5. ZenDesk

Customer service is a hot topic for businesses lately, and those that do it well are seeing abundant benefits. On Twitter, customer service expert Shep Hyken writes, “Make every interaction count, even the small ones. They are all relevant.”

ZenDesk is a help desk solution that will ensure your customers are satisfied with each interaction with your business. The tool allows you to connect with customers from anywhere – email, social, chat and phone – all from one dashboard.

6. Calendly

As the head of your business, your schedule is probably pretty packed. So scheduling any new meetings or phone calls in your already-busy schedule can be a pain. On his blog, Seth Godin writes, “You don’t need more time. You just need to decide.”

Calendly makes scheduling meetings and appointments easy by allowing you to coordinate schedules and avoid going back and forth over email trying to find a time that works.

7. MailChimp

When you’re looking to send a mass email, your typical email service provider, such as Gmail or Outlook, can only do so much. You need a marketing automation tool like MailChimp to better connect with your email list.

MailChimp allows you to create professional-looking emails, send them to your contacts and track your campaigns. You can also set up automated emails, which will save you the hassle of remembering to send. You just create and organize the campaign once, and MailChimp does the rest. Then, you can come back and gather data on how successful the campaign was.

What tools do you use to keep your business running smoothly? Let me know in the comments below:

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

These are Google Android 8.1's five best features

I’ve been using Android 8.1 for several weeks now on my Pixel 2 smartphone, and I’m impressed.

It’s not so much that Android 8.1 is a big jump forward for most end-users. It’s not. Google’s major 2017 Android improvements came with Android 8.0. With a smartphone containing a Pixel Visual Core chip, it’s a dramatically different story.

1) Visual Core

The Visual Core is Google’s first custom-designed consumer processor. It’s a dedicated image processing chip. Today, it’s only in the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Tomorrow, it may be appearing in other smartphones.

CNET: Google Pixel 2 XL review: Promising phone with new caveats

With Android 8.1, the Visual Core chip has been activated and the results are dramatically better photos. First, it takes much faster High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos. By taking a series of photographs in micro-seconds, HDR-enhanced cameras do a much better job of capturing the full range of darkest blacks and lightest whites than older digital cameras.

With Google’s HDR+, your smartphone camera takes a rapid burst of pictures. The Visual Core chip then combines them five times faster than previous generation of processors into one superior picture. You may not notice the speed, but what you will notice is how much more detail you’ll get from low-light photographs.

You used to only be able to take HDR+ photos using the Google photo app. Now, third-party camera apps, which use the Android Camera application programming interface (API), such as Instagram and Snapchat, can also take advantage of HDR+’s superior processing for better photos.

2) Neural Network API

Any device which can upgrade to Android 8.1, which for now are the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, the Pixel 1 and 1 XL, the Pixel C tablet, and the Nexus 6P and 5X, can make use of Google’s Neural Networks API (NNAPI). While as a user you won’t notice anything immediately from this improvement, Android developers will. NNAPI is designed to make it possible to run machine-learning (ML) on mobile devices. This API provides a base layer, higher-level, ML framework. This, in turn, can be used by Google’s TensorFlow Lite.

What this means for you as a user is you can expect to see some very interesting smart applications coming your way soon. For example, by this time next year, you can expect speech recognition and language translation apps, which will approach Star Trek-levels of coolness.

3) Bluetooth battery levels measurements

Do you get sick and tired of not knowing if your Bluetooth earphones or headset are about to die on you? I know I do. With Android 8.1, you’ll find a Bluetooth battery display in the Bluetooth settings. I’d still rather have it on the top status bar, but this is a lot better than fumbling with my Bluetooth gadgets.

4) Better screen management

On some smartphones, notably the Pixel 2 XL, some people were seeing screen burn-in. If you don’t recall this ugly blast from old style CRT display’s past, screen burn happens when the same screen elements — such as the navigation icons or the clock — are always on. After time, these elements are “burned” into the display so their ghostly presence remains even when they should be gone.

With Android 8.1, smartphones now vary how these are displayed. The result? The end of screen burn.

5) New look

There aren’t any major changes to the interface, but there are some useful ones. These include the Pixel Launcher. This makes it easier than ever to access Google search functions and installed apps. Android’s quick settings are transparent now so you can still see a hint of the main screen beneath it. There are also new launcher themes.

All-in-all, Android 8.1 is a good step forward. What I’m really looking forward to though is seeing more smartphone vendors bringing it to their flagship phones. Thanks to Google’s Project Treble.

TechRepublic: Android Oreo rollback protection prevents hackers from exploiting past vulnerabilities

Before Treble, which first appears in Android 8.0, when Google launched a new Android version, the chip OEMs, such as Mediatek and Qualcomm, had to add drivers so their silicon could run it. Then the device vendors added their customizations. Finally, the carriers had to bless the update. Then, and only then, could you get a new version of Android on your old phone. What a mess!

Project Treble has redesigned Android to make it easier, faster, and cheaper for manufacturers to update devices to a new version of Android. It does this by separating the device-specific, lower-level software — written mostly by the silicon manufacturers — from the Android OS Framework.

By working with the chipset OEMs, the vendor interface is validated by a Vendor Test Suite (VTS). In short, Google is cutting out some of the fat, which makes Android updates so slow.

If the phone vendors cooperate by not adding too much of their own spice to the stew, many of you may finally see Android 8 and 8.1 on your phones before I’m writing about the release of Android 9.

Related Stories:

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts