Sunday, October 31, 2010

Raped in Front of Her Son by a Man She Met Online

By Martin Fricker

He lured pair to flat before attack
internet predator Pictures, Images and Photos

A mother was raped in front of her young son by a man she met on the internet, police said yesterday.

The victim, 23, and her three-year-old boy were lured to the suspect's flat before she was knocked out and raped.

She had met the alleged attacker - known as "Derek" - on a number of occasions after they contacted each other online.

And she took her son with her when the pair agreed to meet close to the M2 motorway in Kent on Wednesday, September 30.

The woman then went with the mystery man to a block of flats in Sutton, South London.

As she drank a cup of tea, he punched her in the face, knocking her unconscious before raping her. Police said when the victim regained consciousness she managed to flee the apartment with her son.

Specialist officers worked with the victim to create an e-fit of the stocky predator.

And they hope an unusual "eagle design" on the spare wheel of his Land Rover may help track him down. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The suspect is described as white, in his late 40s and of muscular build.

"He called himself "Derek" and drove an old green Land Rover with a canvas roof. The spare wheel that is attached to the rear of the vehicle had a cover with an eagle design."

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks that have occurred after meetings arranged over the internet.

Last month, Ashleigh Hall, 17, was allegedly killed by a stranger she met on Facebook after telling her mum she was staying overnight with a friend.

And police yesterday revealed the trainee nurse - whose body was found on farmland in Sedgefield, Co Durham, 11 days ago - died after being suffocated.

Durham police said the death was "consistent with smothering".

Homeless Peter Chapman, 32, has been remanded in custody after being charged with the manslaughter and kidnap of the trainee nurse.

He is also charged with failing to give a new address under the Sex Offences Act.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Harassing Texts & Posts Can Land Poster in Jail

by Hayley Peterson

Harassment using text messages or social networking sites could soon be a crime in Maryland if lawmakers approve two bills making their way through the General Assembly.

"In many different schools, Facebook is being used to harass people," said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, sponsor of one of the bills. "Right now, current law doesn't handle Facebook and Twitter-type postings. We have to advance with our technology."

Lawmakers added e-mail to Maryland's harassment laws in 1998. The law defined e-mail as a message sent electronically from one person -- or one computer's Internet protocol address -- to another, ignoring the prospect of Web site or blog postings, Simonaire said.

His bill would expand the definition of electronic harassment to include making an "Internet transmission or posting with the intent to harass."

The bill would also increase the maximum sentence for electronic harassment from one year to three years and slap on a maximum $5,000 fine -- bringing it in line with Maryland's sentencing for telephone harassment.

Michael Swartz, director of the Maryland Blogger Alliance, said the blogosphere has "matured" and there's no need for such a bill.

"It seems to me three years is pretty excessive for sending a slew of e-mails," he said. "You can ignore e-mail harassment to an extent."

He said enforcing the law would be nearly impossible, because IP addresses can be faked.

Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said he hasn't dealt with many cases of electronic harassment, but added that enforcing the law might be even easier than telephone harassment because the Internet can provide a "snapshot" -- from date, place and time to what was communicated -- of the alleged crime.

Another bill in the works from Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore, would add texting to the mix of electronic harassment mediums.

Kelley's bill would make harassing a minor through texting, Internet postings or e-mail a misdemeanor with a maximum three-year sentence and a $5,000 fine.

The bill says people may not "make an electronic communication with the intent to terrify, intimidate, or harass a minor, or threaten to inflict injury or physical harm to a minor."

"The Maryland code is outdated with current technology," Simonaire said. "This is just about getting into the 21st century."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Uploading photos to Facebook & Twitter Can Make You a Target for Crime

by Meghan A. Dwyer

At 10:31 a.m. Paul Hebert, a resident of Greenville, S.C., posted a photo to his Twitter account, Incentintel. The photo, uploaded to Twitpic, was geo-tagged with his exact location – near Roosevelt Road in Chicago. The website icanstalku.com posted the tweet as an example of dangerous, inadvertent oversharing of information on social networking sites that can lead to crimes like stalking and robbery.

Not only do we know that Hebert is not at home – we know his exact location in Chicago. By posting a single photo from his Android phone, he’s made himself vulnerable to real-world attacks.

Geo-tagging is a form of metadata, or data located inside of other data. In some cases, when a photo is uploaded from a GPS-enabled camera or phone, that photo’s metadata includes precise longitudinal and latitudinal information.

In other words, if you are trying to sell your diamond earrings on Craigslist, and you take a photo of them sitting on your dresser with your iPhone, a simple right click of a mouse could show exactly where you live and where your jewelry resides. And if you tell potential buyers to call you after 6 p.m., we can assume you probably aren’t home during the day.

Criminals don’t have to be computer-savvy to get the information, either.

“I could train a grade-schooler to do it,” said Ben Jackson, a security analyst in Massachusetts who co- founded icanstalku.com to raise awareness of geo-tagging.

The website alters people’s tweets to illustrate how they are inadvertently sharing more than a mere photo. For example, instead of a tweet that reads “Check out this amazing car I want to buy,” the re-post will read “I am currently nearby 1100 N. Clark St. in Chicago, Ill.”

“Most people don’t know that they are sharing all of this information when they post a photo,” Jackson said.

After scouring Twitter, Jackson said he was surprised that about three percent of photos posted to the site are geo-tagged. Arbitron reports that 17 million Americans have Twitter accounts. Given the sheer number of photos users upload daily, he said, three percent is considerable.

“I was simultaneously shocked and amazed,” Jackson said.

Gerald Friedland, a multi-media researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, worked with a security analyst to measure the amount of location information available on sites like YouTube, Twitter and Craigslist. Not only were they able to find private addresses of celebrities in Beverly Hills, they also could pinpoint the exact location of otherwise anonymous Craigslist postings.

“What we found was really shocking,” Friedland said. “It’s not at all a fiction – it’s real.”

What started out as an innocent effort to retrieve data, he said, turned into cause for concern.

“We had to find out whether this was a problem or just a bad feeling,” he said. “Unfortunately, the research found out this really is a threat.”

As a researcher, Friedland said, his goal was to let the public know this was happening before criminals caught on.

But right after his study was published in May, suspects in New Hampshire used Facebook and other social networking sites to “cybercase” and burglarize more than 50 homes.

Maura Possley, deputy press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General, said the Attorney General’s Office hasn’t heard of any particular cases in Illinois stemming from social networking sites. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

“We are very aware of the issue,” she said. As a result, she said, Illinois law was modified in January to allow victims of cyberstalking to seek restraining orders.

But the concerns over geo-tagging reach beyond criminal victimization. It’s about privacy, Friedland said.

“I would be much more comfortable going into an airport body scanner,” he said, “than posting the location of my home online.”

The problem, Friedland explained, is that smartphones are unforgivingly accurate.

“My car GPS is actually less accurate than my cell phone,” he said.

By simply disabling the GPS function on your phone, you can prevent geo-tagging. Unfortunately, Friedland said, this may mean that some users won’t be able to use GPS applications like Google Maps.

As geo-tagging becomes more widely understood, Friedland hopes that people will take precautions to protect their privacy. He also would like social networking sites to start purposefully removing location information.

However, he said, geo-tagging in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Originally, geo-tags were used to make life with technology easier.

For example, he said, you take three vacations a year and download the photos into your computer. Geo-tags will make sure your Florida, California and Spain photos are separated into different folders.

The problem, Friedland said, is that most people don’t even know about geo-tagging.

“People are not thinking when they use FourSquare or Facebook,” he said.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Facebook & the Rise of Online Stalking

by Daisy Mendelsohn

“What did people do without Facebook?”

I hear this question a lot, as my friends from back home and from school discuss the fact that most of us found our roommates and some college friends on the social networking site. It is the place where you can keep up with those living in all parts of the world and stay updated on everybody’s lives.

Because of its popularity with high school and college students, it has become a common practice nowadays to begin a Facebook group for possible incoming students at different colleges. George Washington University, Boston University, Loyola Marymount University and USC are only a few of the “Class of 2014” college groups that, as seniors in high school, my friends and I joined in order to get to know our potential future classmates.

Never did it cross my mind that some of those people could be fake—posing as students in order to do the unthinkable.

After all the media coverage on recent cyberbullying - especially the devastating story of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi - it never occurred to me that some of these people I began "friending" on the “USC Class of 2014” Facebook group would end up violating my privacy as badly as Clementi’s roommate did with iChat.

Sure enough, I was soon a victim of online harassment. I met "Jared" on the Facebook page for USC and we really hit it off—there was no romanticism involved—we were just two really good friends who were excited to start their new lives at SC. I talked to him, confided in him and grew close to him from March until September - even though I found out he was going to Stanford instead to be closer to his girlfriend.

I always thought a little bit about the idea that he could be fake, since all we did was Facebook chat, Facebook message or text. But I threw away my doubts since he was on the USC network and Stanford network, which is only accessible if you have a valid school email.

I literally went to Jared to talk about anything and everything—he knew almost all there was to know about me. When we were supposed to meet up at the Stanford game, he never replied to my texts, leaving me a gut feeling that this all could be a hoax. Sure enough, it was, and I was left feeling vulnerable, scared, disappointed and paranoid.

As I was going through this traumatic situation, I remembered that a good friend of mine went through the same exact thing just a few months ago. All of her "close" friends she had met on the college groups, turned out fake as well—leaving her feeling the same anxiety as I am newly experiencing. There are people out there that know everything about me and my friend, and yet we have no idea who they are, where they are and what they are doing with all of the personal information we have given them.

I am disgusted and fearful of every stranger I pass, wondering if that is the person that spent so much time lying to me for so many months. I always have tried to see the good in people, but such a good trait has betrayed me and I am left feeling foolish and unintelligent because of my decisions to be friends with a stranger I never met; it haunts me that some unknown person in this world knows so much about me, could possibly have pictures of me and can use them in any way he likes.

If we could take a poll of how many incoming college students have had the same thing happen to them - as it did to me and my friend - I bet the results would be shocking. This is a problem we need to tackle immediately before these violations of privacy potentially turn into bigger problems—even those as tragic as Tyler Clementi's. This is not just a violation of privacy, this is harassment and people’s safety could easily be jeopardized from these fake Facebook profiles.

We need to take action and go to our universities, our high schools and our friends to teach them of this commonality of fake identities and how people are quite possible obtaining school emails without actually being students of the universities. It’s a frightening thing, but we can fight back; We must update our privacy settings to the strongest possible; we should delete any Facebook friend we have never talked to before; and, most importantly, we have to remember that the only way to know if someone is actually real is to meet them the old-fashioned way - face-to-face.

Keep yourself safe, and don’t let these fake Facebook profilers get such personal information so easily. I learned the hard way, and I don’t want anyone to experience the pain that I am currently going through. From all I have learned from this disturbing experience, the most important thing I ask of you to remember is that, no matter what, our personal safety is much more important than being the “popular” one with a large number of friends on Facebook.

*Daisy Mendelsohn is a pseudonym; the author did not want to use their real name for this piece.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is Your Private Phone Number on Facebook?


So are your friends' numbers.

If you have a friend on Facebook who has used the iPhone app version to access the site, then it's very possible that your private phone numbers - and those of lots of your and their friends - are on the site.

The reason: Facebook's "Contact Sync" feature, which synchronises your friends' Facebook profile pictures with the contacts in your phone.

Except that it doesn't do that on your phone. Oh no. Because that would be wrong, to pull the photos down from Facebook and put them on your phone. That would breach Facebook's terms of service. Update: A more recent version of the app shows that it does download "your friends' profile photos and other info from Facebook" to add to your iPhone address book.

Instead, what What Facebook's app does it that it imports all the names and phone numbers you have on your (smart)phone, uploads them to Facebook's Phonebook app (got a Facebook account? Here's your Phonebook). (Update: Rhodri Marsden says that you'll now get a big warning sign saying that the numbers are imported into Facebook. That's above.)

Pause for a moment and go and look at it. Did you know those numbers? Did you collect them? Despite the reassuring phrase there - "Facebook Phonebook displays contacts you have imported from your phone, as well as your Facebook friends" - it's absolutely not true. I know because there are numbers there which I don't have. OK, perhaps the people who own them added them; but that's not clear either. So how did they get there? Because it only takes one person to upload another person's number, and the implication is that it's going to be shared around everywhere.

Update: that's the implication of "all contacts from your device... will be sent to Facebook and be subject to Facebook's Privacy Policy". Note, not just your friends - but everyone on your device.

The implications are huge, and extremely worrying. All it takes is for someone's Facebook account to be hacked (perhaps via their phone being stolen) and lots of personal details are revealed. Or, as Craig noted in the comments, you get your phonebook record of "Steve Car" (which was for his garage mechanic) somehow linked to someone called "Steve Carlton" - who he doesn't know.

Update: Facebook says, in a statement: "Facebook never shares personally identifiable information with third parties – advertisers are only given anonymised and aggregated data." It also adds: "Facebook is a free service and something that many people find adds value to their day-to-day lives. As with any service, users do need to invest some time in order to use it properly and we encourage people to use their privacy settings to do this and to access the Help Centre for support."

Kurt von Moos, who first wrote about this earlier this year (since when Facebook has revised its privacy statement, but not altered what goes on in this way) says that there are a number of reasons to be concerned. As he puts it:
"1) Facebook doesn't warn users that they are uploading their phone's adress book to Facebook. In fact, because Facebook doesn't sync contact numbers or email addresses TO your phone, most users wrongly assume that Facebook Contact Sync only syncs user pictures. In reality though, they are pumping your address book, without your consent." [Since then the Facebook app has clearly been updated with a warning.]

Facebook says you can remove your mobile contacts, but it's not clear that that will remove your mobile if someone else uploads it.

von Moos continues:
"2) Phone numbers are private and valuable. Most people who have entrusted you with their phone numbers assume you will keep them private and safe. If you were to ask your friends, family or co-workers if they are ok with you uploading their private phone numbers to be cross-referenced with other Facebook users, how many of them do you think would be ok with it?"

He also points to even more egregious problems: (a) can you be sure how Facebook, or its advertisers or partners or whatever it becomes down the line, will use that data? (b) why is it that Facebook takes all your mobile numbers, rather than matching names of contacts with names of friends? (c) sometimes, it gets the matches wrong - and incorrect (or faked) data that people have given to Facebook as their "contact" details (such as hotels or businesses) gets linked as being a "friend", or the lack of an international dialling prefix messes up the match, and means again that someone who you don't know is identified as a "friend" or contact.

von Moos concludes: "There are some contacts and phone numbers who's privacy I simply refuse to risk on the Web. Facebook has taken and continues to take liberties on behalf of their users. Their perception of privacy and their users perception of privacy is often very different. I don't think this is maliciousness on Facebook's part, but it does show me that Facebook is painfully out of touch with the needs and beliefs of their CORE users, who are still wary of the openness that a Web 2.0 lifestyle entails."

It's not clear whether the official Facebook for Android app does the same. We'd be interested to hear from you if you've noticed this with the app. Update: people in the comments seem to be saying that it does.

So - beware: Facebook quite probably has your details. More of them, in fact, than you might have thought.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ex-Wife Murdered Over Facebook Posts

A chef has been jailed for life for murdering his ex-wife after she taunted him on Facebook about paying child support.

Adam Mann used a hammer to batter Lisa Beverley, 30, before slashing her neck with a knife, the Old Bailey was told.

Jurors heard Miss Beverley's five-year-old son found her body at their home in Plumstead in south-east London, on the day after the murder in September 2009.

Mann, 29, of Welling, Kent, will have to serve a minimum of 24 years.

'Unimaginable horror'

During the trial the court was told Miss Beverley had no chance of surviving after being hit on the face, head, neck and body.

Jeremy Donne QC, prosecuting, said Miss Beverley's five-year-old son was confronted with a scene of "unimaginable horror" when he found her the next day.

The court heard the couple divorced in 2007 and were involved in a bitter dispute.

Miss Beverley was trying to get Mann to contribute towards raising their son, through the Child Support Agency (CSA). She told the CSA he had lied about being unemployed and he had subsequently been sent a letter demanding payments of about £400.

The day before her death, Miss Beverley's Facebook profile was updated to say: "Now whose laughing? U've got done big time by the CS, so now leave us alone for good, your son hates u and so do I."

Judge Paul Worsley told Mann: "This was a truly dreadful killing."

The judge said Mann had earlier that day been arguing with the CSA.

"You desperately tried to avoid responsibility for your son. I have no doubt you wanted to remove any further claim by removing Lisa Beverley," said the judge. "You have shown no flicker of remorse. I reject the suggestion that there was any degree of provocation."

The court heard the couple divorced in 2007 and were involved in a bitter dispute.

Det Insp Brian Mather, who investigated the murder, said: "This was a dreadful and tragic case and one cannot imagine how Lisa's young son must have felt finding his mother dead under such horrendous circumstances.

"The actions of Mann are indescribable, that he could murder the mother of his son and leave him to discover her body."