Oct 10

China Watch Blog has learnt that a new study by KU Leuven-iMinds researchers has uncovered that 145 of the Internet’s 10,000 top websites track users without their knowledge or consent.

The websites use hidden scripts to extract a device fingerprint from users’ browsers. Device fingerprinting circumvents legal restrictions imposed on the use of cookies and ignores the Do Not Track HTTP header. The findings suggest that secret tracking is more widespread than previously thought.

Device fingerprinting, also known as browser fingerprinting, is the practice of collecting properties of PCs, smartphones and tablets to identify and track users. These properties include the screen size, the versions of installed software and plugins, and the list of installed fonts.

A 2010 study by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) showed that, for the vast majority of browsers, the combination of these properties is unique, and thus functions as a ‘fingerprint’ that can be used to track users without relying on cookies.

Device fingerprinting targets either Flash, the ubiquitous browser plugin for playing animations, videos and sound files, or JavaScript, a common programming language for web applications.

This is the first comprehensive effort to measure the prevalence of device fingerprinting on the Internet. The team of KU Leuven-iMinds researchers analysed the Internet’s top 10,000 websites and discovered that 145 of them (almost 1.5%) use Flash-based fingerprinting. Some Flash objects included questionable techniques such as revealing a user’s original IP address when visiting a website through a third party (a so-called proxy).

The study also found that 404 of the top 1 million sites use JavaScript-based fingerprinting, which allows sites to track non-Flash mobile phones and devices. The fingerprinting scripts were found to be probing a long list of fonts – sometimes up to 500 – by measuring the width and the height of secretly-printed strings on the page.

The researchers identified a total of 16 new providers of device fingerprinting, only one of which had been identified in prior research. In another surprising finding, the researchers found that users are tracked by these device fingerprinting technologies even if they explicitly request not to be tracked by enabling the Do Not Track (DNT) HTTP header.

The researchers also evaluated Tor Browser and Firegloves, two privacy-enhancing tools offering fingerprinting resistance. New vulnerabilities – some of which give access to users’ identity – were identified.

Device fingerprinting can be used for various security-related tasks, including fraud detection, protection against account hijacking and anti-bot and anti-scraping services. But it is also being used for analytics and marketing purposes via fingerprinting scripts hidden in advertising banners and web widgets.

To detect websites using device fingerprinting technologies, the researchers developed a tool called FPDetective. The tool crawls and analyses websites for suspicious scripts. This tool will be freely available at http://homes.esat.kuleuven.be/~gacar/fpdetective/ for other researchers to use and build upon.

The findings will be presented at the 20th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security this November in Berlin.

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Oct 08

China Watch Blog has learnt that Advetec Holdings Ltd, based in Somerset, UK, has been awarded the first USA permit for its revolutionary machines that reduce organic waste by over 90%. Advetec in conjunction with Organic Solutions Inc. has been awarded the first and only SWORPP in the USA.

The project is the first to employ the Bio-Thermic Digester (BTD), which will be used to process mixed waste from supermarket chains and hardware stores. The organic volumes will be reduced by up to 95% and the heat generated by the microbial activity will be used to power thermo-dynamic heat exchangers to return power back to the grid. An added benefit will be the recovery of clean water for irrigation and other processes.

The BTD will deal with all types of waste without any preprocessing and the residual metals and plastic will be recovered in a clean, sterile and recyclable state for commercial resale.

This is a significant milestone in the acceptance of this technology to provide a sustainable solution to the growing waste and recycling issues in this country, and we are proud to be able to offer this package as part of our “Exciting Biological Solutions” to both the industries and the communities of the UK.

Being able to handle a variety of waste streams, the applications are wide ranging and can solve many issues currently being faced by industry up and down the county. These include:

Sewage sludge cake disposal
Mixed “black bag” household waste
Food contaminated plastic and glass
Animal waste – farms, abattoirs etc.
Food production plant waste streams (cooked and uncooked)
Green waste composting in less than three days
Restaurant and hotel waste self contained treatment

The solution solves waste stream issues at source – eliminating transport and tipping costs.

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Sep 28

China Watch Blog has learnt that Google has quietly retooled the closely guarded formula running its internet search engine to give better answers to complex questions posed by Web surfers.

The overhaul came as part of an update called “Hummingbird” that Google has gradually rolled out in the past month without disclosing the modifications, AP reports.

The changes could have a major impact on traffic to websites. Hummingbird represents the most dramatic alteration to Google’s search engine since it revised the way it indexes websites three years ago as part of a redesign called “Caffeine,” according to Amit Singhal, a senior vice president.

He estimates that the redesign will affect the analysis of about 90 percent of the search requests that Google gets.

Any reshuffling of Google’s search rankings can have sweeping ramifications because they steer so much of the internet’s traffic. Google fields about two of out every three search requests in the US and handles an even larger volume in some parts of Europe.

The changes could also drive up the price of Google ads tied to search requests if websites whose rankings are demoted under the new system feel they have to buy the marketing messages to attract traffic.

The search ads and other commercial pitches related to Web content account for most of Google’s revenue, which is expected to approach US$60 billion this year.

Google disclosed the existence of the new search formula Thursday at an event held in the Menlo Park, California, garage where chief executive Larry Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin started the company 15 years ago.

Google celebrates its birthday on September 27 each year, even though the company was incorporated a few weeks earlier.
Google’s renovations to its search engine haven’t triggered widespread complaints from other websites yet, suggesting that the revisions haven’t resulted in a radical reshuffling in how websites rank in the recommendations.

Hummingbird is primarily aimed at giving Google’s search engine a better grasp at understanding concepts instead of mere words, Singhal said.

The change needed to be done, Singhal said, because people have become so reliant on Google that they now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics.

Besides Hummingbird, Google also announced a few other updates to existing search features aimed at providing information more concisely so people won’t need to navigate to another website. These changes are part of Google’s effort to adapt to the smaller screens of smartphones that aren’t well suited for hopscotching across the internet.

The additions primarily affect Google’s “Knowledge Graph,” an encyclopedia-like box that increasingly appears at the top or alongside the search results, and Google Now, a virtual assistant that tailors key information suited to each user’s habits, interest and location.

Besides providing informational snapshots of famous people and landmarks, the Knowledge Graph is now capable of comparing the attributes of two different things, such as olive oil and coconut oil. It will also be possible to ask the Knowledge Graph to sort through certain types of information, such as the creative evolution of various artists.

An upcoming update to Google’s search application for devices running Apple’s mobile operating system will ensure notifications about personal appointments and errand reminders are also delivered on a smartphones or tablets running on Google’s competing Android software. Google Now also will start flagging new developments and information about famous people that have previously piqued a user’s interest.

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Sep 26

China Watch Blog reports that the Council for Sustainable Development has on Sep 25 launched a public engagement process on how to implement waste charging for waste reduction.

This process encourages stakeholders and the public to implement municipal solid waste charging, to reduce community waste at source, and promote Hong Kong’s sustainable development.

Council Chairman Bernard Chan said 13,400 tonnes of waste is sent to landfills daily, of which 67% is municipal solid waste from domestic, commercial, and industrial sectors. It has grown by nearly 80% in 30 years, he said.

Waste charging does not recover costs, but establishes behavioural changes in people’s daily lives through economic incentives, he added. Waste charging in other jurisdictions has been effective in behavioural changes, and waste prevention, reuse and recycling.

An invitation for response document issued today focuses on the charging mechanism, the charging scheme’s coverage and charging level, and waste recycling.

Views can be emailed to the council secretariat by January 24.

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Sep 22

China Watch Blog reports that Google Page Rank, according to Eric Enge, Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC), is a system used by Google for measuring the number and quality of links onto a web site.

Enge deciphers the mystery about page rank algorithms. Originally defined in a thesis by the Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Page Rank has become the source of much confusion and myth. Many webmasters and SEOs are obsessed with Page Rank and view it as a key measure of success. This has led to a lot of wasted time and activity. This article will discuss what Page Rank is, how it works, and how it matters.

The original Page-Brin thesis defined Page Rank in a precise mathematical manner. In basic terms, every single page that links to another page (we will call it “Page A”) counts as a vote for Page A. If the linking page has a Page Rank of 1, and links to 5 total pages, each of these pages, including Page A, is getting a vote of 0.2. If the linking page has a Page Rank of 2, and links to 5 total page, each of these pages, including Page A, is getting a vote of 0.4.

So now let’s complicate things a bit. The Page Rank you see in the Google toolbar is not the form of “Raw Page Rank” used in these calculations. Raw Page Rank as calculated in the prior paragraph grows to be a very large number, certainly much larger than the number 10 that is the largest number that you might see in the Google toolbar. The Page Rank that people talk about for sites is a logarithmic version of the Raw Page Rank. So if the Raw Page Rank is equal to 10 to the 7th power (10,000,000), this is roughly equivalent to a PR7 site.

Speaking a bit more precisely, the exact algorithm is not known, but we do know that Google takes the known universe of sites, and then allocates their Raw Page Rank into 10 buckets, ranging from Page Rank 1 (“PR1″) to PR10. As stated above, we do know that the original algorithm was logarithmic, so we can estimate that a PR6 site has 10 times as much Raw Page Rank as a PR5 site.

So now let’s complicate things a bit further. Let’s say that we are about to recalculate the Raw Page Rank of the web. Before doing the recalc, Page B has a Raw Page Rank of 20, and it links to 10 sites, including Page A. So in calculating the value to Page A during this recalc, we determine that Page B is passing on 2 Raw Page Rank points to Page A.

However, after finishing the recalc of the Raw Page Rank value for all the sites on the web, we find out that the Raw Page Rank of B has changed – now it has a raw Page Rank of 30. So the value of the link to Page A is now 3 points. This leads us to recalcuate again, but after this calculation, Page B’s page rank has moved up to 35 … How does Google handle this? Google does the calculations over and over (“recursively”) until the level at which the Raw Page Rank values are changing is acceptably small.
How is Page Rank Used?

In the early days of Google, Page Rank was a large factor in determining search engine placement. Pages with a high Page Rank were likely to place highly for the search terms relevant to the page. This led to a whole host of techniques used by Spammers to get their sites to rank highly in the search results. People purchased links from other sites, and they swapped links in high volume. Some spammers even came up with tricks using 302 redirects to hijack traffic from other sites by capitalizing on their Page Rank.

Slowly, but steadily, Google adapted. They figured out how to recognize swapped (“reciprocal”) links and to discount them. They have steadily gotten better at recognizing purchased links and have figured out how to discount them. Note that they do this because swapped links and purchased links do not represent true endorsements of the pages that they link to, causing the algorithm to fail.

In addition, Google, and all the search engines, began to figure out that links from highly relevant sites were a better indicator of the sites that would provide the best search results for a particular search query. Their algorithms have shifted dramatically in the direction of weighting links based on relevance. In very crude terms, you can think of a major used car site having a link value of “PR7″ to another used car site and a link value of a “PR1″ to a site about balloons.

In conclusion, the Page Rank value that you can see in a Google toolbar has little to doday with ranking your site today. There are reportedly more than 100 factors used by Google in determining how a site ranks for a particular search term. Traditional Page Rank is but one of these, and certainly not one of the biggest. The biggest factors relate to how your site design makes it easy for Google to determine what your site is about, and the number and quality of relevant sites that link to you (in particular, when compared to your competitors).

Page Rank does influence your success in three ways that remain significant:

Google crawls the web in Page Rank order, starting with PR10 sites, and working their way down.
Google crawls higher PR sites more often, and more deeply.
Google will index more pages from a high PR site (this is very important if you have a site with a large number of pages).

These are the three most important things you gain by having high Page Rank. Admittedly, these are pretty important. But, the best way to build up your overall Page Rank is by getting links from more and more relevant sites. That way you win the rankings game at the same time. Read these articles for more information on strategies for getting people to link to your site:

Linking Overview
Linking Strategies

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Sep 20

China Watch Blog has learnt that for the first time, municipal and thought leaders around the USA will gather to chart a path to ensuring all children get the play they need to thrive.

Play is critical to the physical, social, emotional, cognitive and creative development of children. But play is disappearing in homes, schools and communities. A healthy balance of active play is falling victim to TV, video games, structured schedules, declining recess time, and a lack of access to safe play spaces.

The 2013 Playful City USA Leaders’ Summit: Investing in Children Through Play, will be held in Baltimore, Md., from Monday, Sept. 23 to Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. A national platform of KaBOOM! and sponsored by The Humana Foundation, the Summit is meant to drive investments in play infrastructure, policies and programming.

“We know that play can transform children – from sedentary to physically active, bored to mentally active, and solitary to socially active. When we make sure that our children’s lives are filled with play, we all benefit: our communities will be healthier and happier today, and our society will be stronger and more resilient tomorrow,” says Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!.

This invitation-only Summit will bring together city, non-profit, Foundation, business and national thought leaders from across the country to advance collective efforts to ensure that all children get the play that they need to become healthy and successful adults.

The select group of more than 150 speakers and participants includes The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, The Honorable Arne Duncan, American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown, The Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson, and Mayors from cities large and small across the nation.

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Sep 19

China Watch Blog has learnt that a new law is set to take effect in October that aims to clean up Shanghai’s tourism industry by forcing out illegal operators.

Shanghai TV Tower

The move also aims to end price irregularities and arbitrary route changes, and to ensure that consumers aren’t forced to shell out more than the upfront costs they signed up for.

Travel agencies and tour guides will face fines or have their license revoked if they are found in violation of the law.

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Aug 30

China Watch Blog reports that Vocefy, Inc. has announced the launch of Infinite English, a mobile learning app that will challenge all current approaches to learning English.

The app uses mobile smart devices and cloud processing to mimic a clever, animated personal tutor named “Vocefy.” The friendly online tutor lets users pick interesting content from anywhere, practice reading out loud and gives immediate feedback with infinite patience, anywhere and anytime. And she works cheap.

1.7 billion people worldwide study English as a second language. Through traditional avenues, students learn vocabulary and reading and writing, but because there are few opportunities to interact with native English speakers, they fail to develop conversational fluency.

That’s where “Vocefy” and Infinite English come in. “Vocefy” is an always available and infinitely patient tutor. She delivers feedback and assistance in very much the same way as a live native English tutor. The only difference is that she is always accessible and never tires or gets frustrated. She’s also infinitely accommodating and will work with whatever content is interesting to the student.

“The technology behind “Vocefy” is very complex”, said Founder and CEO Jim Behrens, “But we were determined to hide all the complexity and really mimic a native tutor and offer unlimited interesting content. “Vocefy” is all you see and hear.”

Assistant Professor Julien McNulty from Chosun University in Korea participated in the testing in early 2013 and became a believer:

“Infinite English is very powerful and convenient for my students. I just didn’t have sufficient resources and time to push students through the fluency barrier. Now I will be able to assign content, see results immediately and better direct their English efforts all from their smart devices at their own individual speeds and needs.”

English Language Director Wu Dan from Global Education, Kunming, China sees Vocefy as an example of how technology should be used to solve educational barriers.

“I see these students on their phones constantly and now I can envision tens of millions of them improving their fluency at the same time using Infinite English. The convenience and immediate feedback will be very valuable. I think they will love Vocey”.

Infinite English supports 64 languages and launched in August 2013 and is available in 130 countries from the Apple and Android App stores at a yearly fee of $9.99 for unlimited use. Infinite English is a product of Vocefy, Inc., headquartered in Golden, CO, USA.

Summary:

Infinite English has been designed to change the way English is learned. This powerful and convenient on-the-go technology provides an animated, virtual tutor named “Vocefy” to address fluency – the most difficult part of mastering conversational English. “ Vocey” comes to life via a novel combination of a smart device and cloud technology. She is always available on the student’s smart device and utilizes whatever content the student chooses. She just might become your favorite tutor ever.

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Aug 15

China Watch Blog has learnt that sometimes breaking up in real life can be easier than removing all traces of an ex-partner from your virtual life.

A Shanghai Daily report said free online application designed to accomplish the romantic cleanup, designed by a Chinese computer student, can remove all traces of an ex on the renren networking site, China’s answer to Facebook.

“Renren breakup app,” for Google Chrome, is becoming popular among young people who tend to display their romantic lives on social networking sites. Click on “start breakup” the honeyed words and photos of the one you ditched, or who ditched you, are removed with no fuss, no muss.

The app was the idea of Xie Mengfei, a student majoring in computer science in Wuhan University in central Hubei Province.

Xie first publicized the app on his renren account a day after last year’s Qixi Festival, known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. But it didn’t really stick until he again posted it on this year’s festival, which was Tuesday. It can be downloaded on the renren site.

“You can have an easy breakup using the app,” he wrote.

Online reports show he had invented several other apps before, including one that helps others find nearby toilets.

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Aug 15

China Watch Blog has learnt that police have busted more than 210 gangs and detained 8,700 people after they were found to have been involved in online crime, according to a Tuesday statement from the Ministry of Public Security.

More than 4,100 Internet-related fraud cases have been solved and 150million yuan (24.50 million U.S. dollars) in economic losses has been recovered since the ministry launched a campaign to clean up the Internet in June, according to the statement.

From July 25 to 27, police from 13 provincial- and municipal-level regions broke up 42 gangs and arrested 140 people who are allegedly involved in online video fraud in southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, according to the ministry.

The suspects allegedly stole contact information used to log into QQ, a popular instant messaging program, and record fake video chats that they used to defraud their victims’ relatives and friends, according to the statement.

Several vehicles, computers and mobile phones used to commit the crimes were seized by police, according to the ministry.

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