Amazon, Facebook and Google don’t need to spy on your conversations to know what you’re talking about

Amazon, Facebook and Google don’t need to spy on your conversations to know what you’re talking about


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Jason Nurse, University of Kent

If you’ve ever wondered if your phone is spying on you, you’re not alone. One of the most hotly debated topics in technology today is the amount of data that firms surreptitiously gather about us online. You may well have shared the increasingly common experience of feeling creeped out by ads for something you recently discussed in a real life conversation or an online interaction.

This kind of experience has led to suggestions that tech firms are secretly recording our private conversations via smartphones or other internet-connected devices such as smart TVs, Amazon Echo or Google Home. Or that they are reading our private messages even when they are supposedly encrypted, as with Facebook’s WhatsApp. If this were proven to be true, it would reveal a huge conspiracy that could do untold damage to the tech industry – which makes it seem somewhat far-fetched. But recent revelations about the degree to which Facebook users’ data has been shared certainly won’t help to convince people that the big firms aren’t spying on them.

Yet, there is another, more compelling reason for the incredibly relevant ads you see. Simply put, tech firms routinely gather so much data about you in other ways, they already have an excellent idea what your interests, desires and habits might be. With this information they can build a detailed profile of you and use algorithms based on behavioural science and trends found elsewhere in their data, to predict what ads might be relevant to you. In this way they can show you products or services that you’ve been thinking about recently, even if you’ve never directly searched for or otherwise indicated online that you’d be interested in them.

Firms invest heavily in gathering user data and do so in a number of clever ways. Social networks and other apps offer to store and share our uploaded data for “free” while using it, and the content we access and “like”, to learn about our interests, desires and relationships. And, of course, there is our search history, which can reveal so much about our current circumstances that Google data has even been used to spot the start of flu epidemics.

But it gets far creepier. Your personal email inbox is also fair game for tech firms. In 2017, Google said it would no longer analyse email content for the purposes of advertising, but recent reports suggest that other large firms still do this. New tech also provides another data source, be it wearables, smart TVs, other in-home smart devices or the smartphone apps that we have come to love. These can gather data on how you use your smart devices, who you contact, what you watch and for how long, other devices on your home network, or where you go.


Tracking your every move can reveal what you’re thinking about.


It’s not just individual sites or devices that monitor your online behaviour. A massive ecosystem of advertisers and supporting companies is dedicated to tracking your activity across the internet. Sites commonly record what pages you look at by saving a small file called a “cookie” to your browser. And your activity across different sites can be matched by looking at your browser’s “fingerprint”, a profile made up of details such as your screen size, the version of the browser you’re using and what plug-in tools you have downloaded to use with it. Then, when you visit another website, an ad firm that has built a profile of you based on your cookies and browser fingerprint can load a “third-party script” to display ads relevant to your profile.

Perhaps even more alarmingly, this tracking does not stop at online data. Tech firms are known to purchase data from financial organisations about user purchases in the real world to supplement their ad offerings. According to some reports, this includes information on income, types of places and restaurants frequented and even how many credit cards are present in their wallets. Opting out of this tracking and onward data sharing is incredibly difficult.

Even where you ask to opt out of this data gathering, your request might not be respected. An example is the uproar caused when it was discovered that Google tracks the location of Android users even when the location setting is turned off. Location data is one of the most useful for advertising and many firms, including Apple, Google and Facebook, track the location of individuals to use as input into their bespoke algorithms.

Putting the data together

To sum up with a simple example, imagine you have just started to think about where to go for your next holiday. You spend the morning visiting travel agents to discuss the latest deals and then visit your favourite restaurant, a popular Caribbean food chain, in the city. Excited about your potential trip, later that night you watch mostly TV shows on the tropics. The next day, your social media feed contains flight, hotel and tour ads with deals to Barbados.

This is a very real illustration of how data on your location, financial purchases, interests, and TV viewing history can be correlated and used to create personalised ads. While some might welcome holiday deals, it becomes much more worrying when we consider data gathering or ads targeting sensitive health issues, financial difficulties, or vulnerable people such as children.

The future of digital advertising is set to be as scary as it is intriguing. Even with new laws that try to protect people’s information, tech firms are constantly looking to push the boundaries of data gathering and algorithm design in ways that can feel invasive. It may yet be proven that some firms aren’t being honest with us about all the data they collect, but the stuff we know about is more than enough to build an alarmingly accurate picture of us.The Conversation

Jason Nurse, Assistant Professor in Cyber Security, University of Kent

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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From catfish to romance fraud, how to avoid getting caught in any online scam

From catfish to romance fraud, how to avoid getting caught in any online scam


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Casey Donovan (right) talks about her catfish experience during her interview with Andrew Denton (left) on Channel 7.
Andrew Denton: Interview


Cassandra Cross, Queensland University of Technology

Australian singer-songwriter Casey Donovan opened up again last night about the six years she thought she was involved in a relationship with a man she never met, someone called “Campbell”.

The Australian Idol winner told the Andrew Denton: Interview show, on Channel 7, how she was a victim of catfishing – a cruel hoax in which someone creates a false identity to play on the romantic emotions of a person by pretending to be someone they’re not, either online or, in Donovan’s case, over the phone.

“Hope kept me there,” she told the program. “To think that no-one could actually do that to another human being and to think of all the shit I’d already encountered in my life, to be at that point and to […] just have everything fall apart, it really hurt.”

Read more:
The abuse tactics fraudsters use to break the hearts and wallets of those looking online for love

Donovan has spoken about her case before and there are many others who have been catfished – just do a quick search of YouTube.

There are some similarities between catfishing and online romance fraud, something I’ve been involved in studying for more than ten years.

So is there anything we can do to avoid being deceived by both?

They play with your heart

My research on romance fraud has focused on the use of online deception to destroy both the hearts and wallets of victims worldwide.

Latest figures on romance fraud in Australia show victims lost more than A$24 million in 2018 cases reported to ScamWatch, run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. About A$19.5 million were loses reported by women.

While catfishing arguably uses the same types of deception and manipulation as romance fraud, the ultimate end goal is different. Those who catfish others online usually don’t have a financial motive.

Unfortunately, there are no known statistics on the prevalence of catfishing, so the extent of this type of victimisation is largely unknown.

While the statistics on romance fraud are problematic – the 2018 ScamWatch figure is up $4.1 million on the year before – it is still officially recognised as a form of fraud and a legitimate form of victimisation.

Catfishing itself is not a crime. It is only the deception associated with it that can be classed as fraud, and is therefore criminal.

A catfish captured

Earlier last month, Lydia Abdelmalek was found guilty in a Melbourne Court of stalking six people.

Adbelmalek was also a catfish.

In her case she took on the persona of Australian actor Lincoln Lewis to deceive several women online. The depth of her deception and the extent of her harassment and ongoing threatening behaviour to her victims tragically resulted in one of her victims taking her own life.

Abdelmalek is to be sentenced in June.

Victim violation

The sense of violation and betrayal is common across both romance fraud and catfishing.

In romance fraud, it is termed the “double hit” of victimisation, whereby the emotional loss is actually more severe and traumatising than the financial loss itself.

This same sense of emotional harm is evident in the case of those who are catfished.

The same issues around acknowledgement of victimisation and reporting are consistent. Many victims likely do not ever realise they are involved in a relationship with someone who doesn’t exist or who has been lying to them.

If they are aware, it is also likely that many do not report or disclose to family or friends. The level of embarrassment, shame and stigmatisation experienced by victims is likely to be similar.

How it works

The techniques used by catfish are similar in many ways to what we know about romance fraud.

The same social engineering techniques, the same grooming process that seeks to develop trust and rapport with the victim. The same level of patience used by offenders to maintain the ruse for weeks, months, and even years in the case of Donovan.

Nobody sets out to be a victim of online deception, whether it is catfishing or romance fraud. These perpetrators identify a weakness or vulnerability in a potential victim, and exploit this by whatever means necessary.

Why do people catfish?

There is limited research as to why individuals engage in online deception, across both catfishing and romance fraud. For romance fraud, there is a strong argument that offenders are motivated to defraud victims for financial reasons.

There is also emerging links of romance fraud to global organised crime networks.

But this does not hold for catfishing. Rather, the small amount of research that explores the reasons fuelling catfish activities, link to a perpetrator’s feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, escapism, and a desire to explore their sexuality through a different persona.

These are all focused on the offender themselves, rather than being concentrated on any victim characteristic.

Given the extent of the harm incurred by online deception, it is imperative to gain a better understanding of the factors which motivate those behind both romance fraud and catfishing.

How not to get caught in a scam

Online deception is difficult to guard against. How can you convince someone that the person they are in love with is not real?

In the case of romance fraud, all prevention messages revolve around the inevitable request to send money. But in the case of catfishing, this message is redundant.

But there are similar signs to look out for. A refusal to meet in person or sometimes to communicate via other social media platforms. Inconsistencies in the stories used by those who perpetrate these acts. A gut feeling that something is not quite right.

On the US television documentary series Catfish, hosts Nev and Max use a range of techniques to try to find the real identities of those who are behind the online catfish.


Caught out!


Sometimes, a simple reverse image search on pictures used by the catfish may provide answers.

Ultimately, looking for love or friendship online comes with risk, in the same way that driving to work each day carries with it an understood level of risk.

But we should not disengage from social media or communicating online. Instead, we need to take precautions to reduce the likelihood that we become victims to online deception, in the form of either catfishing or romance fraud.The Conversation

Cassandra Cross, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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What is a “valid reason” to fire an employee? Lessons from unfair dismissal claims

What is a “valid reason” to fire an employee? Lessons from unfair dismissal claims

Shane Koelmeyer / Wednesday, March 20, 2019

According to the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) most recent annual report, unfair dismissal applications are by far the most common type of application lodged with the FWC. In the 2017-2018 reporting period, more than 13,000 unfair dismissal applications were lodged by employees across Australia.

Clearly, unfair dismissal continues to be one of the main areas of dispute between employers and employees.

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) sets out the matters that must be considered by the FWC when determining whether a dismissal was in fact unfair. One of the most important matters for consideration is whether there was a “valid reason” for the employee’s dismissal.

Over the years, case law has established that a valid reason must be sound, defensible and well founded, and should not be capricious, fanciful, spiteful or prejudiced.

It is often on this question of whether there was a valid reason for dismissal that employers and employees clash. Employers may view an employee’s conduct, performance or safety breaches as extremely serious, but the employee views those same things as minor infractions not warranting any attention, let alone the kind that results in them losing their job.

Two recent cases from the FWC highlight this kind of discrepancy in the characterisation of events.

A “cool as hell” photograph idea

In this case, an employee located at a mine site was dismissed after he posed for a photo standing on top of a piece of heavy machinery that was parked, but still running. In the photo (that was posted on Facebook) the employee was pictured standing on the machine with one foot on top of the cab while holding a large metal roof bolt in his right hand.

The employer considered the employee’s actions a serious breach of its safety policies and rules, as well as conduct that was capable of causing harm to the employer’s reputation and business.

Upon discovering the photo, the employer informed the employee of the seriousness with which it was treating his conduct and asked him to show cause as to why his employment should not be terminated.

The employee responded with a somewhat sarcastic email in which he said that he posed for the photo because he thought “it’d just look cool as hell”.

The employer subsequently terminated his employment.

In determining the employee’s unfair dismissal claim, the FWC considered all the relevant policies and procedures of the employer related to safety, including those concerning the isolation of machinery. The FWC also considered recent developments at the mine site where the main operator of the site had contacted the employer about a spate of injuries, insisting that the employer do more to prevent safety incidents.

The FWC found the employer had a range of safety policies, rules and procedures in place and the employee had been trained appropriately in these. On this basis, he should have known that climbing on top of a piece of heavy machinery that was still running was a breach of the employer’s safety policies, procedures and rules.

Further, the FWC accepted there were valid reasons for dismissal in that the employee’s actions were not only risky in terms of safety, but also risked the employer’s reputation and business interests because one of its biggest partners had recently warned it about its safety record.

At the hearing of the matter, the employee accepted that his conduct was out of line and was a silly thing to do but he did not accept that he could have fallen off the machine or that his conduct amounted to a breach of the employer’s policies or procedures. The FWC commented: “These refusals, together with the contents of his response to the ‘show cause’ request demonstrate [the employee’s] lack of genuine remorse and acceptance of accountability for his conduct.”

The FWC found that there was nothing unfair about the employee’s dismissal and his application was dismissed.

“If it’s a short distance, please walk”

In this case, a bus driver was dismissed following an incident where he stopped driving after becoming rattled, told passengers they should walk and disparaged his employer and manager to passengers.

The bus driver claimed he was approaching a roundabout and was trying to turn when his seatbelt suddenly locked, hurting his neck and shoulders. He said he was then forced to brake to avoid hitting an electrical pole, after which he started to feel stressed and began to shake.

He called the employer’s operations centre by radio and requested that he be relieved from driving. He told the operations centre that he would continue to drive to a nearby station where he wanted to be replaced.

The bus was fitted with CCTV that recorded both audio and video. This footage was provided to the FWC as evidence of the incident.

The CCTV showed that while waiting for a response from the operations centre, the bus driver complained to two passengers about his treatment by the employer, and his manager in particular. He said that he had reported safety issues to the employer who accused him of “bullshiting”. He also told passengers that his manager was “abusing” him.

He then failed to drive to the station as he had said that he would and told passengers (including school children) “if it’s a short distance, please walk”.

The employer sent a replacement bus and driver along with an additional driver to drive the bus driver and his bus back to the depot.

The bus driver refused to be driven back to the depot and insisted on being on his own and walking.

Some days later, the employer showed the CCTV footage of the incident to the bus driver and asked him to respond to its concerns and provide reasons as to why his employment should not be terminated. The bus driver claimed that the seatbelt was faulty and that his conduct was out of character and was the result of stress because his manager had issued him with an envelope in the lunch room earlier that day.

Within the context of having issued previous warnings for unacceptable conduct to the bus driver, the employer terminated his employment. Its reasons were that:

  • After radioing for a replacement, the bus driver had not continued to drive the bus to a nearby station as he said he would, resulting in passengers being stranded and told to walk;
  • The bus driver made allegations to passengers about the employer failing to address safety issues;
  • The bus driver made disparaging comments to passengers about his manager; and
  • The bus driver refused to return to the depot after being relieved from driving.

In determining whether the dismissal was unfair, the FWC considered whether the employer had a valid reason for the dismissal. The CCTV footage of the incident was particularly relevant.

The FWC found CCTV did not support the bus driver’s version of events about his seatbelt or braking to miss a pole. However, it did support the employer’s position that the bus driver had made inappropriate remarks to passengers about the employer and his manager, and he had told passengers to walk.

The bus driver claimed that his reaction to events on the day in question should be viewed in the context of his manager handing him an envelope earlier in the day which contained a record of a meeting about a late running service he was responsible for. He argued that it was inappropriate for his manager to hand him the envelope and it caused him stress which led to the incident with the bus.

The FWC rejected this argument and held that there was nothing untoward about the manager’s conduct. The FWC also found the bus driver’s complaints about safety were unfounded.

Ultimately, the FWC held that the incident occurred as described by the employer, was serious in nature and amounted to a valid reason for dismissal. The bus driver’s application was, therefore, dismissed.

Lesson for employers

Employers are entitled to expect high standards of conduct from their employees. This includes expecting that employees will not act in a manner that negatively impacts on the reputation of the employer.

Where an employee engages in inappropriate conduct, an employer is within its rights to treat that conduct as serious in nature, even if the employee considers it trivial or not their fault.

These cases demonstrate that, even if an employee doesn’t think their conduct is grave enough to warrant dismissal, the FWC will treat serious matters seriously and valid reasons as valid, despite an employee’s characterisation to the contrary.

Information provided in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Article found HERE at

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“Arrogance”: Slater & Gordon criticised after it files trademark for ‘commonly used’ phrase

“Arrogance”: Slater & Gordon criticised after it files trademark for ‘commonly used’ phrase

Matthew Elmas / Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Slater & Gordon AAP Image/Luis Enrique Ascui

A trademark application filed by law firm Slater & Gordon for its tagline “we win cases like yours” is raising eyebrows over claims the phrase is widely used.

The firm applied last month to trademark the phrase with IP Australia and is currently awaiting consideration of its claim, but opposition is already lining up, with Queensland-based lawyer Nicole Murdoch saying the regulator should bin the application.

“I’ve been saying it for years,” Murdoch, principal of Eagle Gate Lawyers, tells SmartCompany.

“Lawyers say that term, it’s what clients want to know.”

While trademarking the phrase would not prevent other lawyers from using it in conversations with clients, Murdoch, who has worked as a trademark attorney, says she’s worried Slater & Gordon will use its size to bully smaller firms into abandoning the term.

“They will just come after smaller practitioners and try to bully them,” she says.

“There’s an arrogance in saying they should be the ones saying we win cases like yours.

“Smaller traders will just say they don’t want to take on Slater & Gordon.”

Several other lawyers have expressed doubt the application will be approved on social media, saying its more likely a secondary application to trademark the phrase alongside the Slater & Gordon brand will be successful.

Nicole Murdoch, principal of Eagle Gate Lawyers. Source: Supplied.

Richard Prangell, director of Viridian lawyers, says the use of ‘we win cases like yours’, or variations of it, have been used in the profession for hundreds of years.

“Legal practice is a very old profession, and lawyers of all skill levels have been using some variation of ‘we win cases like yours’ for many hundreds of years,” he tells SmartCompany.

“I would have expected that the discerning practitioners at Slater & Gordon would be aware that a trademark cannot be registered if it is not inherently adapted to distinguish their specific goods or services.”

A Google search for the term ‘we win cases like yours’ returns dozens of results for law firms overseas using the term, however, an exclusive Australian search returns only two other firms using that exact phrase on their own websites.

Those firms did not respond to requests for comment about the trademark request.

A Slater & Gordon spokesperson said the firm “completely rejects” assertions it would bully small firms with the trademark.

“It has long been our campaign tagline and like thousands of businesses, law firms and professional services organisations do with their campaign taglines we are well within our right to protect our intellectual property,” the spokesperson said.

“There is nothing unusual about this and, in fact, a number of law firms have trademarked their campaign taglines. We are not aware of any other law firm that uses ‘we win cases like yours’ as their tagline.”

Article found HERE at

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How to protect your business from an unexpected divorce

How to protect your business from an unexpected divorce

Michael Tiyce / Friday, April 12, 2019

divorce Michael Tiyce, principal of Tiyce & Lawyers. Source: Supplied.

There are more than 2.2 million small businesses now operating in Australia, but as this number continues to climb, so does our divorce rate. While these figures may not be directly connected, going through a separation or divorce can have a very real and unfavourable impact on the future of a new or small business.

While it may be difficult to think about and plan for the potential breakdown of a relationship, especially when things are going well, it should be an essential business consideration similar to how we think about taking out compulsory public liability, contents, vehicle and product insurance. In reality, however, many business owners fail to see divorce as a feasible threat or risk — until it’s too late!

In my 25 years working in divorce law, I’ve seen many clients surprised and shocked by the impact a separation can have on their business. In many cases, the entire direction and goals of the company change, and as day-to-day duties take a back seat, the business often suffers. As with any asset, you need to make sure you are covered for the worst-case scenario, and your business is no exception.

Get a financial (prenuptial) agreement

It might be a tricky conversation to have, but it’s worthwhile discussing a prenuptial agreement with your partner before getting married. A prenup should be seen as a form of insurance for your business and finances, in case of separation or divorce, but if you are already married or in the process of a divorce settlement, it may not be too late to organise a financial agreement.

Many people don’t realise that prenups can be set in place before, during and even while ending a marriage. However, if you started the business during the course of your marriage, it may not be as simple as organising a prenup or claiming the asset is entirely yours. Talk to a family lawyer for expert advice and to better understand your options in this situation.

Keep your accounts in order

It’s common to see a spouse supporting and contributing to their partner’s business, particularly in those challenging early years when hiring staff may not be an option. While it seems like a logical and natural role to take on, it makes dividing assets a little more complicated. If your partner has had any involvement with the business, you will need to clearly outline and prove what they have contributed.

All assets, income, profits and even interest earned by you and your spouse during the marriage will become relevant in negotiating the divorce settlement. Working with both your accountant and family lawyer to get all of your paperwork in order could become one of the most important, stressful and time-consuming things you may have to do. Ensuring your paperwork is kept up to date will be a huge help and put you 10 steps ahead of most people if your relationship should end.

You may also need to get the business professionally valued, if one party wants to buy the other out or both parties decided to pack up shop and sell. Just like a prenuptial agreement, you can get a business valuation anytime and be prepared should anything unexpected happen.

Secure your business operations

Even if your partner has not played a direct or active role in setting up and running the business, a separation or divorce could still significantly disrupt your business and livelihood. Disruptions to business continuity, staff morale and reputation can be greatly affected during this time.

If your home has been doubling as an office, for example, you may find yourself looking for a new place to work if you’re unable to remain living in the family home. Having stability during this stressful time will allow you to continue running your business and minimise any interruptions on the day-to-day operations.

Get a good support network

Even the simplest divorce can take its toll, so having a good support network of friends, family and staff members is also crucial during this highly emotional and stressful time. If you’re a sole trader or don’t have anyone to lean on and talk to, seeking the support of an experienced and qualified counsellor or therapist may also be useful. If you don’t already have someone you trust, a good family lawyer will have a network of experts they can recommend to you.

Time and time again, I have seen the divorce process drawn out when a client is unable to let go of the past. Working through any emotional issues can help you see the situation more clearly and come to a quicker resolution, avoiding further or extended periods of distress.

Avoid going to court

Disputes taken to the court can become lengthy and expensive and, in my opinion, almost no one walks away a winner. By choosing to go to court you’re leaving the final decision and dividing of assets in the hands of the judge. You’ll feel more empowered by taking control of the situation and actively shaping your future. You’ll also avoid any regrets, disappointments or further litigation if things don’t go your way in court.

It’s in the interest of both parties to co-operate and engage in dispute resolution sessions such as round table conferences, mediation and arbitration. Unless it involves criminal or domestic violence matters, most divorce cases can actually be resolved fairly quickly. In most of the divorce cases I’ve worked on, dividing of assets and working out the custody of children is done well before the divorce papers are signed. The divorce papers are simply a formality that allows you to legally marry again.

Article found HERE at

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