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Erich Ferdinand

Authorities in Japan are so worried about their inability to tackle cybercrime that they are asking the country's ISPs to block the use of Tor.

According to The Mainichi, the National Police Agency (NPA, a bit like the Japanese FBI) is going to urge ISPs to block customers if they are found to have "abused" Tor online. Since Tor anonymizes traffic, that can be read as a presumption of guilt on anyone who anonymizes their Web activity.

The Japanese police have had a torrid time of late when it comes to cybercrime. Late last year a hacker by the name of Demon Killer began posting death threats on public message boards after remotely taking control of computers across the country. The police arrested the four people whose IP addresses had been used and reportedly "extracted" a confession, but they were forced into a humiliating apology when the hacker kept posting messages while the suspects were in custody.

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Stranger Visions

With websites, corporations, and governments peeking at our activities both on and offline, many of us have become more mindful of the electronic footprints our online activities leave behind. But there aren't any privacy settings to deter the kind of surveillance that information artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is modeling with her new project: a genetic intelligence database of computer-generated 3D profiles constructed from found hair samples.

Premiering last weekend at an open studio showcase for residents of New York City's Eyebeam art and technology lab, the project, Stranger Visions, began with a simple but profound realization: we are leaving physical traces of ourselves everywhere, and tools to unlock the secrets behind those...

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Fred Stutzman, a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, has written two programs that allow users to block their own online activities. At first blush, they seem like the answer to a question nobody's asking. But that has turned out not to be the case.

Stutzman, who researches social media at the university's Heinz College, has released two apps, Freedom and Anti-Social. Freedom, which banishes a user from his or her Internet connection for up to eight hours, has been downloaded 350,000 times. Anti-Social, which blocks access to social networks like Facebook, has been downloaded by 125,000 users.

More surprising is that Freedom costs $10 and Anti-Social $15 (there are trial versions available with a limited number of uses). To a slightly higher degree than most apps, arguably, you have to really want what they offer. That is, the elimination of distraction.

"Freedom enforces freedom," the app's site 1984ishly proclaims. "You'll need to reboot if you want to get back online while Freedom's running. The hassle of rebooting means you're less likely to cheat, and you'll enjoy enhanced productivity." The app has been praised by writers from Dave Eggers to Nick Hornby to Zadie Smith.

But Freedom might be too much for those who need online access for their work. "Anti-Social solves this problem," Stutzman says, by "allowing you to do your online work, while preventing you from accessing top social sites."

These apps, marketed by his company Eighty Percent Solution, may be indicators of a larger trend. Stutzman seems to think so.

"I think people are starting to pull back and realize how the time we spend online impacts their work, the quality of their work, and their ability to hit goals," he told Ars. 

"Freedom, and Anti-Social, are ways to get this time back—to turn off the constant social obligation of social networks, to better compartmentalize work time and play time. As a technology researcher, I am very positive on the impact of technology, particularly social technologies, on our lives The net effect of a lot of these technologies are positive. However, just because technology can be seamlessly integrated into our lives, does not mean that we need to engage with these technologies at all times. It is important to find space for solitude, concentration, and reflection. I believe a lot of technologies don't consider this."

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Waveform by Michael Altemark (Flickr)

The sound of an old-school dial-up modem can be slowed down to create a haunting, ethereal soundscape, but what does today's internet sound like? Giles Turnbull at The Morning News took a listen — everything from recording the steady, roaring breath of a server's fan, to using software tools to convert a computer's browser history into a playable music stream. The results are fascinating to hear, and surprising in that they reveal the pulse of digital life beneath the online activities we participate in every single day. You can hear one such example below, but to get a real sense of the soundscapes that surround us, be sure to check out Turnbull's piece itself.

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