Tag Archive | "Technology"

Privacy complaint of former WAtoday reporter unfounded, says tribunal.

Tech journo loses Telstra metadata stoush

CHRIS THOMSON

The former technology editor for Fairfax’s watoday.com.au, smh.com.au, theage.com.au and brisbanetimes.com.au websites has lost a privacy stoush with Telstra over access to his metadata.

oneperth.com.au can reveal that last week Telstra won an appeal against Sydney-based Ben Grubb who recently packed in his job with Fairfax after five years there. Grubb plans to go into business with fellow technology journo Asher Moses who has also parted company with Fairfax.

In May, the Federal Privacy Commissioner directed Telstra to give Grubb all metadata regarding his Telstra mobile phone.

In a ruling that Grubb had branded “a landmark decision”, the Privacy Commissioner had originally ruled the metdata was personal information as defined by the Federal Privacy Act.

The Privacy Commissioner had decided that in refusing to give Grubb access to the metadata Telstra was in breach of National Privacy Principle 6.1, and Telstra was directed to give the metadata to Grubb.

But Telstra challenged that direction at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia. And on Friday, tribunal Deputy President Stephanie Forgie set the decision aside.

NOT PERSONAL INFORMATION

Deputy President Forgie decided Telstra’s mobile network data was not information about an individual, namely Grubb, and so was not personal information.

She concluded Telstra was not in breach of the national privacy principle when it refused to give Grubb access to the metadata.

Grubb had originally asked for data on which cell tower he was connected to at any given time, the mobile phone number of texts he’d received and the time they were received, the time his data sessions started and finished, URLs of websites he visited, the duration of telephone calls, and details of who he called and who called him.

Before the tribunal, Grubb argued that if Telstra could associate metadata with a specific account then it was personal information about that account holder.

DATA TRAWLERS

At the heart of his submission was the proposition that if a person were to trawl through the data held by Telstra, that person would be able to identify Grubb from it.

To illustrate his submission, Grubb referred to data released by AOL as anonymised search query logs conducted by a large number of its users. AOL had released the information for research purposes but made it publicly available. Among those to whom it was available was the New York Times. The newspaper used the information released by AOL on particular users to follow their searches and, using the information from those searches, to identify them.

Grubb asked why, if Telstra could give law enforcers access to metadata such as URLs, IP addresses and cell tower information, the company could not give the same metadata to him.

Deputy President Forgie said the answer was that Grubb’s entitlements and those of law enforcement agencies were the subject of different legislative regimes.

Telstra argued that the process of identifying an individual from mobile network data involves complicated and tedious searches of the sort that could not lead to a finding that the identity of the individual could reasonably be ascertained.

Photo: ‘Redlands597198’, Wikimedia Commons

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Txt litr8 kids r better readers

STAFF REPORTER

Better interpretation of text-speak can improve kiddies’ reading and language skills a Curtin University study concludes.

The study by Genevieve Johnson in Curtin’s School of Education asked children in grades three through six to translate five common abbreviations used in text messaging, and to complete reading fluency and sentence comprehension exercises.

“Without exception, those children who correctly defined textisms demonstrated superior skills in reading and comprehension than children who were unable to define common texting terms,” Dr Johnson said.

“The results add to a growing number of studies that conclude a positive association, if not effect, between ‘digitalk’ and traditional literacy across the life span.”

Similar findings have been suggested in other recent research, in contrast to reports from teachers.

While considerable variability existed when assessing the children’s comprehension of text-speak, significant differences were evident in the reading fluency and sentence comprehension scores of the children who had correctly translated the textism.

“The positive relationship between the children’s ability to translate textisms and their standard reading achievement was evident, if not overwhelming,” Dr Johnson said.

Photo: ‘Summer Skyes 11’, Wikimedia Commons

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Domo arigato, Mr Roboto

STAFF REPORTER

Three Curtin University students have placed fourth in the world in an international robotics competition held at a recent ‘Techfest’ in Mumbai.

After winning the Australian qualification round, Computer science student Toby Scantlebury, engineering student Zachary Oliver and maths student Todd Hurst competed against more than 20 universities from Sri Lanka and India for the robotics crown.

Mr Oliver said his team’s robots were designed to navigate around a black and white grid using an infrared line sensor.

“The challenge was for the robot to gather blocks to deliver to another automatic robot that would then go through a maze to deliver the blocks to set points,” he said.

“The robot did this by detecting blocks placed on the grid using its three infrared range sensors which could tell it how far away the blocks were.

“Using two grippers, it grabbed the blocks and moved them around the grid to complete the competition.”

Curtin University and Swinburne University of Technology were the only two Australian institutions to win a place in the competition’s finals.

Having run for 14 years, the annual Techfest promotes technology, scientific thinking and innovation.

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Bad battery may melt your iPod

STAFF REPORTER

A form of battery affixed to the outside of iPod devices may short-circuit, overheat, damage the mini sound systems and burn their owners.

Manufacturers of Mophie brand rechargeable batteries concealed inside a protective case have requested consumers to stop using the defective product immediately.

The Mophie batteries were sold in Apple stores nationally for the 4th generation ipod Touch between June last year and January 24 this year.

Mophie advises that in extreme cases the batteries may overheat – causing minor burns to iPod users, and deforming and damaging their iPods.

Product codes 2012_JPAXT4 and 2010_JPAXT4 with serial numbers where the first five digits fall between TR113XXXXX-XX and TR120XXXXX-XX are affected.

Concerned consumers should hit Mophie online and fill in their details.

Return of the battery will be arranged and a replacement Mophie sent out free of charge.

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Robots v Lobsters

STAFF REPORTER

Small waterproof robots attached to lobster pots are being built and deployed to probe the marine habitat of Western Australia’s crayfish.

Department of Fisheries scientist Simon de Lestang said the research would examine the potential causes of record low settlement numbers for juvenile rock lobsters in recent years.

“[The study] will enable underwater mapping of lobster habitats and determine its associations with lobster abundance and size composition,” Dr de Lestang said.

“The robotic cameras, attached to rock lobster pots and float lines, will open a new window and insight into underwater communities between Shark Bay and The Capes.”

Dr de Lestang said the water proof robots were fully programmable and could collect GPS information while aboard a boat.

“They can detect when they’ve been deployed in water and automatically activate a camera to capture high definition vision of a lobster pot’s descent to the seabed and later record water temperature and more vision at various intervals while the pot is sitting on the bottom,” he enthused.

“There is a real need for a cost-effective approach to collecting oceanographic and habitat information and we believe these pictures of the bottom will be very useful.”

The technology is potentially transferable to other fisheries in the state.

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Online therapy knocks out depression

STAFF REPORTER

An Australian National University study shows that online therapy can play a major and long-lasting role in treating depression.

Lou Farrer, from the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research, trialled the effectiveness of online programs MoodGYM and BluePages when used in conjunction with telephone counselling services provided by Lifeline.

Dr Farrer said there was an immediate drop in depression symptoms among callers to Lifeline who used the two programs.

“We worked with Lifeline centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast,” she said.

“Lifeline counsellors in these centres identified callers who seemed to be experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety.”

The researchers then split the callers who were depressed or anxious into groups.

Some were asked to complete MoodGYM and BluePages on their own, while others were given the programs as well as weekly phone calls to see how they were progressing.

Another group received weekly phone calls without using the online programs and the final group received the usual Lifeline service.

“What we found was that the groups who had used MoodGYM and BluePages had a significant, immediate drop in symptoms of depression,” Dr Farrer said.

“Surprisingly the difference between the groups who completed the programs with and without the weekly phone calls was minor.

“This was surprising as we expected that the programs might be more effective for those who received the weekly phone calls.”

MoodGYM and BluePages are free online depression treatment programs developed and managed by the ANU.

Dr Farrer said the online therapy had a long-lasting impact on depression symptoms.

“What is really exciting is that we found that for people who used the online programs their depressive symptoms stayed reduced for at least six months after the intervention was finished,” she said.

“So, the online programs not only had short term effects, but the effects lasted.

“Online treatment programs are not only inexpensive and readily accessible; they are also effective.  Hopefully, they will continue to have a bigger role in the future.”

Photo of Dr Farrer by Martyn Pearce

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Internet grey nomads better adjusted

STAFF REPORTER

A Curtin University study has revealed that people aged over 60 who use the internet are better adjusted than older folk who do not.

Curtin educational psychologist Genevieve Johnson conducted the research that studied the responses of 122 Canadians aged 60 and over.

The survey addressed the relationship between internet use and psychological health. The issues of loneliness, competence, social support and depression were examined in detail.

“As the world moves towards more online communication, we wanted to examine the relationship between psychological wellness and internet use among older adults and look at patterns between demographics such as age and income and internet use in late adulthood,” Dr Johnson said.

“The research showed that older adults who use the internet participated in many of the same activities online as younger adults, but to a lesser extent.

“In particular we looked at three clusters of characteristics – frequency of online use, wellbeing and participant demographics.

“The report showed that there was a link between internet use and personal evaluation of competence.”

Dr Johnson also said a strong sense of personal abilities could be a factor in the older adults’ willingness to try new technologies in the first place.

The study also showed there was now a much higher rate of internet use among older adults compared to other reports from the past decade.

“Fifty-seven per cent of the sample group reported to use the internet every day and 12 per cent used the internet weekly,” she said.

“Only one person in four aged 60 or over reported never using the internet.

“This is in stark contrast to similar studies from 2004 which state that only around 38 per cent of adults over the age of 65 go online.

“As the baby boomers start to enter this age bracket, we are seeing a much higher uptake of internet use than those born before this cohort.”

PHOTOGRAPH OF DR JOHNSON BY SAM PROCTOR

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Breastmilk may help Parkinson’s sufferers

STAFF REPORTER

Human breastmilk has potential to help people suffering from diseases including Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, according to a University of Western Australia researcher.

Foteini Hassiotou has discovered that human breastmilk contains stem cells able to turn not only into breast cells, but also cells of the bone, cartilage, fat, brain, liver and pancreas, depending on the medium in which they are grown.

“The benefit of obtaining stem cells from breastmilk is that they can be accessed non-invasively, unlike getting them from the bone marrow, umbilical cord blood or peripheral blood,” Dr Hassiotou said.

“If we can understand the properties of these cells and their role in the breast and in the breast-fed baby, we can use them as models for breast cancer research and in innovative stem cell therapies.

“Breastmilk offers a new exciting opportunity for stem cell therapies, with the potential to benefit not only the mother and child, but also other people.”

 

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Free 1800 plan for mobile phones

STAFF REPORTER

Australia’s communications watchdog has unleashed a plan for calls to 1800 numbers from mobile phones to be available free of charge.

Acting Australian Communications and Media Authority chairman Richard Bean said the plan would also see calls from mobiles to ‘local rate’ (13/1300) numbers limited to the amount a caller would pay for a local call made from a fixed telephone.

The changes are proposed in a consultation paper released by ACMA.

“As an alternative to amending the numbering plan for 1800 and 13/1300 numbers, the ACMA would welcome any proposals from industry that would achieve the same outcome for consumers,” Mr Bean said.

Another paper outlining ACMA’s preferred approach to numbering in the medium and long term will be released later this year.

Image courtesy www.freefoto.com

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Ecstasy explored as cancer cure

STAFF REPORTER

Redesigning the illicit recreational drug ecstasy to treat blood cancers is being explored by a team of researchers from the University of Western Australia and the University of Birmingham.

Recent papers by a team led by UWA medicinal chemist Matthew Piggott show that compounds similar to ecstasy kill cell-lines derived from blood cancers such as lymphoma, myeloma and leukaemia.

Compounds similar to ecstasy have been modified to eliminate the drug’s abilty to deliver a high.

At the same time, the compounds’ potency against cancer cells has been boosted 100-fold.

In 2005, Professor John Gordon and his team from the University of Birmingham published a paper describing the ability of ecstasy to kill lymphoma cells.

At about the same time, Associate Professor Piggott and his group were modifying ecstasy for Parkinson’s disease drug discovery.

The researchers teamed up to tackle blood cancers.

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$70,000 of internet calls hacked

STAFF REPORTER

Three Perth businesses have lost a combined $70,000 in excess call charges after thieves hacked into their internet phone systems recently.

Police spokesman Paul Litherland said that phone hacking, known as ‘phreaking’, was seeing cyber-bandits place calls to premium international numbers often owned by them so they could rake in massive profits.

Senior Constable Litherland said the attacks had occured mainly on weekends to maximise the time the breaches went unnoticed.

By the time the proprietors returned to the office after the weekend, the damage had already been done.

Senior Constable Litherland said many Perth businesses had not taken necessary steps to secure their networks.

He said passwords should be changed regularly with new ones that were not easy to guess.

Senior Constable Litherland said businesses should also place caps on the number of calls made over a given period.

Barring calls to international locations the business did not usually call was also a good idea.

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Maaaaate!

STAFF REPORTER

UWA researchers hope to record 100 Australian accents to help improve the cultural sensitivity of voice recognition technology.

Research engineer Roberto Togneri the recordings would help drive innovation in devices such as smart phones and televisions.

“The information we obtain will be used to support Australian speech research and technology and drive better speech technology applications,” Associate Professor Togneri said.

“This should lead to improvements in the reliability and usability of speech recognition, through advances in the technology that allows robust extraction of both speech and visual features.”

Associate Professor Togneri is looking to record Australian English speakers aged over 18 who have had all their schooling in Australia.

Participants will be recorded on three separate occasions, reading words and sentences, having a conversation, and playing a game with another participant.

The project is part of an Australia-wide effort looking to record 1000 Australian English speakers nationwide.

Volunteers wishing to lend their strine to the project can register at https://austalk.edu.au/.

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Superfridge the coldest place in Perth

STAFF REPORTER

The inside of a new super refrigerator at the University of Western Australia is now the coldest place in the state, dropping to less than eight thousandths of a degree above the coldest temperature possible.

UWA’s School of Physics will use the machine to cool things down to near that phenomenally-low minus 273 degrees Celsius to examine their behaviour.

The $400,000 BlueFors dry dilution refrigerator will help physicists better understand quantum mechanics, the basics of which have enabled computer and internet technology people take for granted.

“The strangeness of quantum mechanics could be used as a new and untapped resource,” UWA physics professor Mike Tobar said.

“We’ll be able to engineer complex, multi-component, quantum systems for new science and new applications.”

The interior of Professor Tobar’s super fridge is far colder than anywhere in Antarctica or in outer space.

Manufactured in Finland and filled with $50,000 worth of Helium 3 gas, the fridge is the only one of its kind south of the Equator.

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Mr Roboto visits Perth

STAFF REPORTER

A renowned Chinese roboticist will visit Perth next week to receive an honorary doctorate from Murdoch University.

Zhang Li-bin is president of Zhejiang University of Technology, Murdoch’s sister university in Hangzhou, China.

Murdoch’s acting vice chancellor Gary Martin said Professor Zhang was nominated for an honorary doctorate because of his “indelible” contribution to agricultural research.

“Professor Zhang’s contribution to the design architecture of small agricultural machinery and modern robot technology for use in agricultural, forestry and stockbreeding has made a significant contribution to agricultural research and development in China,” Professor Martin said.

Acknowledgement of Professor Zhang’s outstanding contribution is widely recognised in Japan, the USA and Europe.

He has lived in Italy and conducted research with the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Bologna.

Professor Zhang will accept his honorary doctorate at the Murdoch graduation ceremony on March 2.

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