Opinion » Cybernaut


Bigger brother than we think?



File this under "creepy". Last week the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates open source Internet growth and use without interference from the government, discovered that the tiny dots used by laser printers can be used to track any document back to you.

The EFF examined yellow dots found on the fringe of documents that can only be spotted with a blue light, magnifying glass or microscope and determined that the pattern is a code that coincides with the date and time the document was printed and the serial number of the printer.

The Secret Service would not confirm or deny the existence of the dots, but it is believed they are there to track the forgery of money, cheques, bonds and other commodities.

While that may seem like a reasonable precaution – forgeries produced with high quality scanners and laser printers are often difficult to spot – the EFF is concerned that the dots could be put towards more insidious uses, like tracking the activity of political dissidents. And if the EFF could break the code, they said, so could anybody else.

Although a serial number does not reveal the identity of a forger, the sale of high price laser printers does leave a paper trail – bills of sale, credit card receipts, warrantee registration, and so on.

Virtually all of the top manufacturers from the U.S. and Europe appear to be using the codes in their high-end laser printers. The EFF, www.eff.org , will be tabling a comprehensive report shortly.

Canadians lead Internet banking

It’s probably been about four years since I’ve actually lined up to see a bank teller. I recently lost a bank card while on vacation and had to get another one, but other than that I’ve been conducting 100 per cent of my transactions online and through the ATM.

I prefer the open hours of operation, and the fact that I don’t have to leave the house to pay bills. I only really need to go by the bank twice a month to deposit cheques, and if we ever get automatic deposit I could probably cut my bank visits back to about twice a year.

According to a new study by comScore Media Metrix Canada, I’m not alone.

Canadians currently lead the world in web banking, which is probably one of the reasons that our banks are among the most profitable in the world for their size. About 13.3 million Canadians, roughly 40 per cent of people and 68.9 per cent of Internet users, do their banking online.

You have to give credit to the banks here. They’ve made online banking simple and powerful, allowing you to do everything from pay bills to create new accounts to apply for mortgages to invest money to order new cheques. That’s why the average online banker spends about 55 minutes a month at their bank portal, viewing an average of 141 pages of content.

My favourite feature is the ability to go back as far as 120 days to view past account activity. As someone who needs to budget right now, I need to know exactly where my money is going every month.

The one drawback is the lack of personal service. When I lost my card the bank manager I dealt with called up my account information and let me know that I had qualified for a line of credit and other services, and that these offers would expire in a matter of days. Taking his advice will save me about $1,000 this year in Interest on my credit cards and loans.

The online site never tipped me off about any of that stuff, even though the bank presumably has my e-mail address. So far that’s the only drawback I’ve found, but there’s no denying it’s a big one.

The Web 2.0 revolution

It’s hard to sum up exactly what Web 2.0 is, but according to 2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly it is "an architecture of participation". What that means is anyone’s guess, but to put it as simply as possible, imagine the Internet as your operating platform rather than something you can access with your computer. Imagine a web browser is your desktop, that all of your software applications are online rather than on your hard drive, and that ordinarily people will provide most of the content through open source news, encyclopedias, and so forth. Voice Over IP services, like Skype, would also be rolled into Web 2.0.

While it’s hard to explain what it is and how it works, Web 2.0 is a serious concept that has attracted the attention of Google, Microsoft, Wikipedia and others, and is rapidly gaining acceptance as the future incarnation of the Internet.

For more on Web 2.0, what it is and how you can participate, visit Tim O’Reilly’s website at www.oreillynet.com .

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