Mankind has been able to accomplish some pretty impressive things, but some of them were around long before we figured them out. Ants, for instance, hunt for food in a way that’s basically the same as the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and they were doing it long before the Internet was around.
It all has to do with how harvester ants gather their food. The same way that TCP will throttle data transmission if initial packets indicate little bandwidth, harvester ants will send less foragers out for food if the initial ones take too long to come back with grub.
From Stanford News:
[The] rate at which harvester ants – which forage for seeds as individuals – leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.
A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.
And that’s not where the similarities end either. Ants also use TCP’s slow start technique, by sending out a wave of foragers (packets) to figure out the relative amount of food (bandwidth) before scaling their numbers up or down. Likewise, the same way a connection will time out if the source stops sending packets, the ants will stop sending out new foragers if none return for 20 minutes.
Balaji Prabhakar, one of the researchers behind the discovery, says that if this behavior had been uncovered pre-Internet, it might have influenced its design. Even so, this foraging process has been seriously time-tested, and there still might be things we can learn from it. In the meantime, who knows what other algorithms might already be out there, quietly waiting to be discovered. [Stanford News]
Companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple are currently competing for a new round of top-level domains—think new versions of
.app. They think this will make the internet easier to use, but we think it’s a bit sketchier than they’d like to admit. Here’s why.
What Is a Top-Level Domain?
A top-level domain is the last part of a URL, often something like
.org. It’s at the top of the domain hierarchy (hence the term “top-level”), and is the first thing your computer looks for when you type in a web address. When you type in
lifehacker.com, for example, your browser asks your DNS server where it can find the
.com nameserver. Your browser then contacts the
.com nameserver for the
lifehacker subdomain, where it finds this web site. You can see an example of this below, courtesy of Wikipedia.
These domain names are all managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), formerly a government organization but now a private, non-profit entity. ICANN not only manages which top-level domains exist, but also make sure everything is stable and runs smoothly.
ICANN Is Handing Out New Top-Level Domains, Lottery-Style
A few years ago, ICANN began expanding the number of top-level domains, so porn sites, for example, could use the
.xxx domain. Recently, though, they opened this up so companies can create and apply for custom top-level domains. For example, Google wants to claim
.blog, so all blogs created by their Blogger service would have an easy-to-remember
.blog domain name. They also want
.search for obvious reasons, while Amazon wants to claim
.cloud. Allowed domains can range from brands (like
.gmail) to generic words (
.fun) and geographic locations (
.paris). Not all top-level domains will be exclusive, but when a company applies for one, they can choose to make them exclusive to their own pages, like Google wants to do with
.blog. Many of these companies have applied for hundreds of top-level domains (ready to pay millions of dollars for them), even ending up in battles over who gets what—both Google and Amazon are currently fighting over
.cloud, for example, and you can bet everyone’s looking to get their hands on
Why the Domain Lottery Is Sketchy
As you can imagine, some people think this lottery is a little ridiculous, and we tend to agree. It might seem innocent enough to give Amazon ownership of the
.kindle domain, since the Kindle is their product, but you can easily see how things get more complex when they’re asking for an exclusive claim to the
.book domain, or Google the
.search domain. Not only that, but it opens the door for a lot of unfair treatment. It wouldn’t be out of character for Google to float
.blog sites to the top of search results, or the company who owns the
.news domain could give preferential treatment to sites that share its political biases. It ends up being a huge, confusing, and sometimes misleading mess—and the only ones who benefit are the companies and ICANN, who despite being a nonprofit, stands to make a ton of money from this endeavor. Photo by MoneyBlogNewz.
These controversial domain applications are still in review, but ICANN has yet to say or do anything that would lead us to believe they won’t accept them. All we can do now is wait and see. What do you think about the new generic top-level domains? Will they make the internet easier to use, or are they only going to benefit companies and confuse users? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. And, if you’re interested in reading more, here are some other articles on the subject:
- Generic Top-Level Domain [Wikipedia]
- .blog, .lol, .foo: Google, Amazon Top List of Global TLD Applications [Ars Technica]
- Amazon’s Domain Power Play: We Want to Control Them All [CNET]
- New Internet Domain Names May Make for a More Tangled Web [Washington Post]
- Should Gooogle and Amazon Be Allowed to Control Domains? [GigaOM]
The internet is starting to realize something unsettling: our iPhones send information about the people we know to private servers, often without our permission. Some offending apps are fixing themselves. Some aren’t. But the underlying problem is much bigger.
Apple allows any app to access your address book at any time—it’s built into the iPhone’s core software. The idea is to make using these apps more seamless and magical, in that you won’t have dialog boxes popping up in your face all the time, the way Apple zealously guards your location permissions at an OS level—because fewer clicks mean a more graceful experience, right? Maybe, but the consequence is privacy shivved and consent nullified. Your phone makes decisions about what’s okay to share with a company, whose motivation is, ultimately, making money, without consulting you first.
Once you peel back that pretty skin of your phone and observe the software at work—we used a proxy application called Charles—watching the data that jumps between your phone and a remote server is plain. A little too plain. What can we see?
As Paul Haddad, the developer behind the popular Twitter client TapBot pointed out to me, some of App Store’s shiniest celebrities are among those that beam away your contact list in order to make hooking up with other friends who use the app smoother. From Haddad’s own findings:
Foursquare (Email, Phone Numbers no warning)
Path (Pretty much everything after warning)
Instagram (Email, Phone Numbers, First, Last warning)
Facebook (Email, Phone Numbers, First, Last warning)
Twitter for iOS (Email, Phone Numbers, warning)
Voxer (Email, First, Last, Phone numbers, warning)
Foursquare and Instagram have both recently updated to provide a much clearer warning of what you’re about to share. Which every single app should follow, providing clear warnings before they touch your contacts. But plenty of apps aren’t so generous. “A lot of other popular social networking apps send some data,” says Haddad, “mostly names, emails, phone numbers.” Instapaper, for example, transmits your address book’s email listings when you ask it to “search contacts” to connect with other friends using the app. The app never makes it clear that my data (shown up top) is leaving the phone—and once it’s out of your hands and in Instagram’s, all you can do is trust that it’ll be handled responsibly. You know, like not be stored permanently without your knowledge.
Trust is all we’ve got, and that’s not good. “Once the data is out of your device there’s no way to tell what happens to it,” explains Haddad. Companies might do the decent thing and delete your data immediately. Like Foursquare, which says it doesn’t store your data at all after matching your friends, and never has. Twitter keeps your address book data for 18 months “to make it easy for you and your contacts to discover each other on Twitter after you’ve signed up,” but can delete the data at any time with a link at the bottom of this page. Or a company might do the Path thing, storing that information indefinitely until they’re publicly shamed into doing otherwise. Or worse.
We need a solution, and goodwill on the part of app devs is going to cut it. All the ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS? dialog boxes in the world won’t absolve Apple’s decision to hand out our address books on a pearly platter. iOS is the biggest threat to iOS—and nothing short of a major revision to the way Apple allows apps to run through your contacts should be acceptable. But is that even enough? Maybe not.
Jay Freeman, developer behind the massively popular jailbroken-iPhone program Cydia, doesn’t think Apple’s hand is enough to definitively state who gets your address book, and when:
“Neither Apple nor the application developer is in a good position to decide that ahead of time, and due to this neither Apple’s model of ‘any app can access the address book, no app can access your recent calls’, nor Google’s method of ‘developer claims they need X, take it or leave it’ is sufficient.”
Freeman’s solution? Cydia’s “one-off modifications to the underlying operating system” that we deal in, nicely transfers this control back to the user.” In other words, we can’t trust Apple or the people that make apps—so let’s just trust ourselves to control how iOS works.
Freeman left us with one, final, disquieting note. Shrewd devs and others with the knowhow have been able to dig through app traffic to find out of they’re shoveling around your address book. But there’s no easy way to do this—and if a dev really wants to sneak your data through the door, there’s technically nothing we can do to stop him: “There are tons of complex tricks that can be used to smuggle both information in network traffic and computation itself.” It’s a problem fundamental to computer science—once the data’s in a dev’s hands, he can conjure it away, too small to be noticed by App Store oversight in churning sea of other apps.
Unless Apple keeps him from getting that information in the first place by letting us all make informed decisions with our phone and the private life poured into it. Your move, iOS.
NEW YORK (AP) — Credit card rewards are the new social currency.
Citibank customers can now use Facebook to pool their rewards points online.
The bank on Tuesday launched a Facebook application that lets users team up to use their points, whether it’s for charity, a group gift or a personal goal. Citi says it’s the first bank to offer such a feature.
The app builds on a service Citi introduced last year that lets customers transfer points to one another on the bank’s homepage. After getting feedback, executives decided to expand the rewards sharing capability and offer it through social media.
“Now we’re delivering it to where customers are every day,” said Ralph Andretta, who heads Citi’s loyalty programs and co-branded cards.
Andretta noted that customers will have far more flexibility with their points, whether it’s to help a friend fly home from college or team up for a big-ticket reward. The company is giving away 2,500 free rewards points to each of the first 4,000 customers to sign up.
To get started, customers download the ThankYou Point Sharing App, which is linked on Citi’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/citibank.
Customers can then start a rewards pool by naming a recipient and explaining its purpose. The recipient of the points maintains control of any contributions, so it’s best if you know and trust that person.
Pool recipients must be individuals and cannot be an organization, even if the intended goal is a charitable donation.
Users can promote their goals by sharing links on their Facebook pages or privately inviting other Citi customers to contribute. Donors can see the total number of points a cause has amassed.
The app can collect personal information from Facebook profiles. But Citi says it does not share any customer account information with Facebook.
The program isn’t only for credit card holders either. Citi checking account customers can also earn ThankYou points. Citi introduced its lineup of ThankYou credit cards last year.
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Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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