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Psychologist: Search Results Could Sway Elections

Psychologist: Search Results Could Sway Elections

Today in international tech news: A psychologist uses India's recent election to suggest that search results can influence voting; the U.S. Navy gives dumbed-down, hack-proof e-readers to sailors; Estonia's online voting is deemed insecure; Facebook considers opening an office in China; and BlackBerry launches Jakarta.

By David Vranicar
05/13/14 10:16 AM PT

Search engines could have a profound influence on voters, according to psychologist Robert Epstein, whose recent study chronicles the impact of what he dubbed the "search engine manipulation effect."

Epstein has not produced any evidence that search engines intentionally manipulate elections. Even so, he claims the phenomenon is legit.

This is not a new topic for Epstein; he added to his previous body of work by using India's recent national elections as a case study. Researchers gave a group of nearly 2,000 participants -- all undecided voters -- deliberately altered search results. Those results reportedly influenced their votes.

Researchers also were able to increase the likelihood of voting and affect the level of trust for preferred candidates, according to Epstein, a senior psychologist for the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.

Even search engines that don't actively try to manipulate election results tend to favor front-running candidates, according to Epstein, and could therefore create a snowball effect.

Google published a statement in response to Epstein's research: "Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google's approach to search from the very beginning. It would undermine people's trust in our results and company if we were to change course."

Google made the same claim, verbatim, in response to a 2013 report from Epstein.

[Source: The Washington Post]

Navy Gives Sailors Hack-Proof E-Readers

The U.S. Navy will provide specialized e-reading devices -- the Navy eReader Device, or NeRD -- to its fleets.

The devices won't have WiFi, ports or data capabilities. Such features, which are par for the course for normal e-readers, could potentially be exploited by enemies, perhaps giving away a ship's location.

The devices will be preloaded with 300 books, ranging from bestsellers to classics. Jane Austen, Shakespeare, James Joyce and J. R. R. Tolkien are among the confirmed list of authors.

Five of the devices will be distributed to each active U.S. Navy submarine fleet.

[Source: BBC]

Ahead of Elections, Estonia's Online Voting Deemed Insecure

With Europe-wide elections taking place later this month, researchers have decreed that Estonia's Internet voting system is not secure and is susceptible to tampering.

The country's online voting platform has vulnerabilities, according to Finnish security company SafetyLocked, that could enable "criminals or foreign hackers" to doctor the vote totals.

The company has pinpointed a handful of sloppy security moves on the part of election officials, including the following:

  • typing PINs and password in view of cameras;
  • downloading key software over insecure connections; and
  • preparing election software on insecure PCs.

This is particularly problematic given Estonia's embrace of e-voting, which is -- or at least was -- expected to account for up to 25 percent of votes in the upcoming European elections.

[Source: The Guardian]

Facebook Considers Opening China Office

Facebook is and long has been blocked in China, but the company nonetheless is considering opening a sales office in the Middle Kingdom to assist local advertisers who use the site to target overseas customers.

The office could be opened within a year, according to a source cited by Bloomberg.

[Source: Bloomberg]

BlackBerry Launches Jakarta

BlackBerry has launched the low-priced BlackBerry Z3 in Indonesia, where it is known as "BlackBerry Jakarta."

The phone, which checks out at US$191, has some Indonesia-specific features, such as a local sticker set for BlackBerry Messenger, preinstalled apps, and a predictive keyboard for the local language.

[Source: Tech In Asia]


David Vranicar is a freelance journalist and author of The Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis. You can check out his ECT News archive here, and you can email him at david[dot]vranicar[at]newsroom[dot]ectnews[dot]com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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