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London riots move online

Molly Wood Aug 10, 2011
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Riots have probably been happening ever since people got together in a group and became mad about something. But historically, rioters have not tended to carry BlackBerrys around to plan their activities.

That’s what’s happening in England this week. Rioters have apparently been using the phones’ messaging system to coordinate activities and lead riot participants to where the action is. The BlackBerry is extremely popular among young people in the U.K. But by using that particular device, the rioters might be leaving behind a trail, according to Chris Soghoian, a privacy and security researcher and graduate fellow at The Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University. “The police in the U.K., he says, “have taken interest in Blackberry Messenger. All of the messages that go through this are going through servers operated by RIM (Research In Motion, the company that makes BlackBerry). And so if the company chooses to do so, it could hand over all messages sent by U.K. customers over the last few days. Whether RIM decides to keep a copy, that’s unclear.”

RIM has already said it will cooperate with British police, although what that exactly means is still unclear. But that promise was enough to lead to a cyberattack against the company. Graham Cluley of the security firm Sophos explains what happened: “The official BlackBerry blog has been hacked by a gang called Teampoison and they posted a message up on the BlackBerry blog saying you won’t assist U.K. police. If you do, innocent people might be harmed as well. And furthermore, if you think you’ll help police, realize this: we have details of your employees, their addresses, names, phone numbers and we’ll make it public and pass it along to rioters. I think we have to take those claims with pinch of salt. There’s nothing to indicate they do have that information regarding RIM employees, but obviously it’s a nasty bit of blackmail.”

It’s not just the rioters, the police, RIM and the hackers getting involved here — it’s ordinary people as well. Researcher Ashkan Soltani says a group of citizens in England is using photo recognition software to identify rioters.

Also in this program, a new study says Facebook can make you empathetic, antisocial and paranoid. We hear about Facebook studies a lot, so we recap what else we’ve heard in the past year:

August 2010: Facebook is used by narcissists

November 2010: Facebook linked to narcissism and low self-esteem

November 2010: Facebook makes people more social
January 2011: Facebook makes people sad

February 2011: Facebook causes stress and anxiety

March 2011: Facebook helps self esteem

March 2011: Women use Facebook to boost their self-image

June 2011: Facebook users have more close friends

Good luck, Facebook users!

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