TIME Web

Netflix Is Testing a ‘Privacy Mode’ So Nobody Can See Your Bad Movie Habits

Netflix Ends Messages Blaming Verizon
The logo of Netflix, the biggest driver of Internet bandwidth, is displayed on an iPhone. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Soon you may not have to worry about your friends who share your logon making fun of you

Netflix is reportedly testing a feature that will allow you to conceal your viewing activity so you can hide your more embarrassing binge watches.

Cliff Edwards, director of corporate communications and technology, told Gigaom that the company is testing a “Privacy Mode” option that will keep what you’re viewing from appearing in your activity log and ensure that Netflix doesn’t use it to recommend future titles you you or anyone else who shares your account.

The Netflix rep told Gigaom that the feature is being testing in all markets, but not all users will have access. It’s still unclear if the feature will be released for everyone to use after testing.

[Gigaom]

TIME privacy

How to Delete Yourself from the Internet

Americans love the Internet, with 87% of us active online. We have accounts everywhere, letting us kill time at work on Facebook, check Twitter for the latest news, cruise Pinterest for inspirational moodboards and hit Amazon for great shopping deals. On top of that, most of us also have a pile of inactive accounts created for discounts or one-off purchases.

With our digital footprints expanding, we are relaying more personal data than ever to trackers, hackers and marketers with and without our consent. Are we sharing too much? Do we have the right not to be tracked? Is withdrawing from the Internet entirely to preserve your privacy even possible? Let’s go over each of these issues.

Data dangers

Creating profiles at sites you use regularly has many benefits, such as ease of log-in and better suggestions for links or products you might like. But with growing concern over privacy terms that change at the drop of a hat, the sale of personal data by less scrupulous websites and the challenges of keeping stalker-y exes at bay, more and more Americans are deciding to reclaim and delete their personal data.

If you’re among the roughly 23% of Americans who use a single password for a handful of accounts, deleting inactive accounts is an important security measure. If a hacker cracked that password, you could suffer a domino-effect hacking of your other accounts too, especially if they are linked via a common email address.

Aside from the accounts and profiles we willingly create, our data is also exposed as hundreds of people search websites that comb police records, courthouse records and other public records such as real estate transactions, making our personal data publicly available to anyone who looks for it. Deleting this data isn’t as easy as you might expect — and many companies won’t remove your personal details fully.

Deleting your online presence

Tracking down all your data won’t be easy. There is no one service that will trawl the Internet for pieces of you, so start by tearing down your social profiles.

Start with JustDelete.me

A site called JustDelete.me provides an incredibly comprehensive list of email, social media, shopping and entertainment sites, along with notes on how difficult it is to completely erase your account and links to actually get it done. This is a great resource to help you remember and find unused profiles as well as gauging how much effort you’ll have to expend to shut it down.

Find other open accounts

Next, review your email accounts, looking for marketing updates and newsletters to get wind of other accounts you may still hold or companies that have bought your email address. Then go through your phone and check for apps that have required you to create accounts.

Once you’ve created a list of accounts, you then should sort them according to how often you use them, if at all. Delete any you don’t use. “Data is an asset to these companies,” says Jacqui Taylor, CEO of web science company Flying Binary. “Not only are these companies able to monetize you as their product, you aren’t even receiving a service in exchange.”

Working off your list of accounts, head back to JustDelete.me and use it as a springboard to start deleting accounts.

Downloading and removing your content

If there’s data you’d like to keep — say, photos or contact lists — you may be able to download them before deleting your account. Facebook and Twitter data can be downloaded in the respective Settings tabs, while LinkedIn contacts can be exported via Contact Settings.

At many sites such as Evernote and Pinterest, you won’t be able to delete your account. You can only deactivate it and then manually remove personal data. At sites such as Apple, this process includes a call to customer service.

Don’t forget background checking sites

To find out which background check websites have posted information about you, check out the list of popular sites on this Reddit thread. Then go to each and try searching for your name. See if you pop up in the first few pages of search results. If you do, the same Reddit thread has information on opting out, but get ready for a hassle: usually calling, faxing and sending in physical proof that you are who you say you are. After that, expect to wait anywhere from 10 working days to six weeks for information to disappear.

Sites that don’t allow complete withdrawal

A large number of companies make it impossible to delete all traces of your accounts. According to JustDelete.me, this list includes Etsy, the online marketplace for home crafters, which retains your email address no matter what; Gawker Media, which retains the rights to all posts you made; and Netflix, which keeps your watch history and recommendations “just in case you want to come back.”

Then there’s Twitter, which signed a deal with the Library of Congress in 2013 giving it the right to archive all public tweets from 2006 on. This means that anything you’ve posted publicly since then is owned by the government and will stay archived even if you delete your account.

To prevent future tweets from being saved, convert your settings to private so that only approved followers can read your tweets. (Go to the settings in the security and privacy section.)

Shut down your Facebook account by going to Settings, Security and then click “Deactivate my account.” You can download all of your posts and images first by going to Settings, General and then click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

However, you’ve already agreed to the social media giant’s terms and conditions, which state that Facebook has the right to keep traces of you in its monolithic servers. Basically any information about you held by another Facebook user (such as conversations still in the other person’s inbox or your email address if it’s in a friend’s contact list) will be preserved.

The divide between companies that make it easy to delete your data and the companies that make it difficult is clear. “If you’re the product (on such free services as the social platforms), the company tends to make it difficult,” Taylor says. Monetizing your data is the basis of the business model for such companies.

For services like eBay and Paypal, Taylor adds, you aren’t the product (both collect fees from sellers), making it easier to delete your account and associated data.

The right to be forgotten

Being able to erase social and other online data is linked to a larger issue: the right to be forgotten online. In the European Union, a recent Court of Justice ruling gave EU residents the right to request that irrelevant, defamatory information be removed from search engine databases. However, no such service is available to the residents of United States.

“You should be able to say to any service provider that you want your data to be deleted,” Taylor says. “If someone leaves this earth, how can their data still be usable by all these companies?”

When erasure isn’t an option

Much of our personal data online is hosted on social platforms that regularly update their terms of service to change how our data can be used. A privacy policy that you were comfortable with when you signed on could evolve to become something you don’t agree with at all.

“Your digital footprint is not under your control if you’re using these free services,” Taylor says.

But in an increasingly connected, virtual age, it can seem inconceivable not to have a footprint at all. Most of us use a social account to log in to dozens of other sites. Some sites require that you do so: for example, Huffington Post requires a Facebook log-in, while YouTube commenters need a Google+ log-in.

Employers frequently perform background checks through Google or dedicated third-party social media checkers. In many professions, an online portfolio of work on the likes of WordPress or Tumblr is a necessity. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to communicate socially without the aid of a Facebook or Twitter account.

Given the realities of our connected world today, not being online can be seen as a negative. The key, Taylor says, is to take ownership of your data. Control how much of your personal data is available online by pruning inactive accounts. Create new accounts selectively, and post with the understanding that within a single update to the terms of service, your data could become publicly shared or further monetized.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME

Here’s How Most People Believe ‘GIF’ Is Pronounced

A new survey from eBay delves into how people utter tech-related words

The GIF wars rage on.

eBay Deals, working with a digital marketing agency, asked more than 1,000 Americans what terms they use to refer to 44 various tech-related things. Among those questions was whether people pronounce GIF as “jiff” or “gift” (yes, with a t) or something else. And “gift” handily beat “jiff,” nearly 54% to 41%.

The provided answers may not truly reflect the actual sounds people make in real life, given that “giff”—with a hard g and sans t—wasn’t a suggested option. (Many of those who wrote in their own answer said they used “gift without the t,” while many others said they like to utter each letter individually, “G-I-F.”) But if we assume votes cast for gift were votes for a hard g in general, it appears advocates for a soft g are likely outnumbered all the same. And that’s despite the instructions from the man who created the little moving images in 1987.

Other interesting tidbits from the survey, which you can peruse in full below:

  • LOL remains by far the most popular way to articulate laughter, at 61% to hahaha‘s 17%. Among those who rejected all the provided options and wrote in their own were people who express digital laughter as “bwahahahahahaha,” “Jajaja” and “Nyahahaha.”
  • Smile emoticons without noses [:)] are much more popular than those with noses [:-)]. Other research has found that young people prefer to go without a snout.
  • The revolution of the “hashtag” is not complete. When showed that symbol, 31% said they associated it primarily with “pound” and 26% said the same of “number.” Hashtag took 42%.
  • More than 30% of respondents said they pronounce meme as “me-me” rather than “meem,” which took 48%. Just over 20% apparently pronounced the word “mem,” like gem.
  • More people pronounce data as “day-tuh” than “dah-tuh.”
  • More than 6% of people say they refer to the network you’re using right now as “The Interwebs.”


via eBay Deals

TIME Environment

Your Ant Farm Is Smarter Than Google

Ants carry leaves to their nest
As a collective, ants are efficient and surprisingly intelligent Moment Select via Getty Images

Ant colonies are surprisingly efficient at forming intelligent networks that can rapidly spread information, according to a new study

Ants may have the largest brains of any insect, but that doesn’t mean a single ant on its own is all that smart. As individual ants leave their nest in search of food, they walk in what appear to be random paths, hoping to come across something to eat. The behavior of hundreds of scout ants circling their nests on a hunt for sustenance can be chaotic as it looks, like drunks stumbling about the house in search of their keys. The ants will search for food until they’re exhausted, then return to the nest to briefly eat and rest before heading back out again.

But as a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes clear, something amazing happens when an individual ant finds a food source. The ant will take a bit of the food back to the nest, leaving a trail of pheromones behind them to mark the path. A wave of ants will then attempt to follow the path back to the food source, but because pheromones evaporate quickly, their behavior will still look chaotic as they attempt to home in on the food.

Over time, though, the ants will organize their search, optimizing the best and shortest path between the food and the nest. As more ants follow the optimal path back and forth, they leave more and more pheromones, which in turn attracts more and more ants, creating a self-reinforcing efficiency effect. The chaotic, seemingly random foraging of individual ants is replaced with organized precision. Working as one, the ants create the sort of distribution networks a traffic engineer could only dream of.

“While the single ant is certainly not smart, the collective acts in a way that I’m tempted to call intelligent,” said study co-author Jurgen Kurths of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Reseaerch, in a statement. “The ants collectively form a highly efficient complex network.”

That’s not all the study found. The researchers also discovered that individual ants differ in their ability to find food. Over time older ants gather more experience about the environment surrounding their nests, which makes it easier for them to forage effectively, even though their age means they tire faster than young ants. The young ants are more like interns—their lack of experience means they can’t contribute much to foraging, but they are effectively learning on the job. (No word on whether they get course credit.)

Even though individual ants can get smarter over time as they learn more about their surrounding environment, the real ant intelligence is in the collective. Just how advanced are their search capabilities? Good enough to rival our best technology, at least. Google’s search engine forages for information on the Web in much the same way an ant colony looks for food. Google’s webcrawlers scour the Internet, bringing data about individual pages back to Google’s servers, where that information is indexed, sharpening the company’s picture of the ever-evolving Internet as it is—just as ants learn more and more about their environment over time. Google’s search algorithms use hundreds of signals to find the most efficient and accurate answer to any search query—just as the ant colony quickly organizes itself to find the most efficient path to a food source once it has been discovered by scouts.

But Kurths believes that ants are actually much more efficient at organizing data than a collective of human beings using the Internet could ever be, as he told the Independent:

I’d go so far as to say that the learning strategy involved in that, is more accurate and complex than a Google search. These insects are, without doubt, more efficient than Google in processing information about their surroundings.

Which doesn’t mean you should ask the closest ant colony, rather than Google, when you want to find out what time the Super Bowl is on. But in a digitally connected world where the network is quickly becoming smarter and more efficient than any individual, ants are apparently ahead of the game.

TIME Web

Where to Get the Best Online Grocery Deals

I go out of my way to save a couple dollars when grocery shopping. I check weekly ads and download digital coupons onto my local supermarket’s app. I even use Ibotta to try and get a little bit of cash back after the sale. If you have the time, you can get some amazing deals.

Thankfully, there’s a way to get a great deal even if you don’t have the time: online grocery delivery services. Buying your groceries online can save you a trip to the store and, of course, save you money. Wondering which gives your family the best bang for your buck? Techlicious took a look at the four national grocery delivery services that offer the best prices and selection to find out.

Sam’s Club

Sam's Club
Sam’s Club

When I say “Sam’s Club,” the chain’s massive members-only stores likely come to mind. But like its competitor Costco, plenty of Sam’s Club’s wares are available online, too. Quantities are large and the savings are big, but what else would you expect? It’s a warehouse store.

The biggest downside to shopping at Sam’s Club is the $45 yearly membership fee you’ll need to fork over before you can start shopping. You’ll also need to pay shipping charges on many of your purchases, so be sure to factor that into your budget.

Sam’s Club and other warehouse stores are not the most elegant solution for getting your grocery shopping done online, but they are a solid option if you already hold a membership.

Amazon.com

Amazon

There are two solid options for doing your household grocery shopping at Amazon: the company’s long-running “Subscribe & Save” program and the new Amazon Prime Pantry grocery delivery service. Both offer terrific prices and low (or free) shipping costs.

Amazon Prime Pantry, launched just last month, allows you to ship up to 45 pounds of groceries (or up to four cubic feet) for a flat $5.99 shipping fee. You’ll find a wider selection of your favorite brands than you would at a place like Sam’s Club, and in more reasonable quantities, too. You’ll need a $99 yearly Amazon Prime membership to take advantage of the service, however.

The company’s Subscribe & Save option, meanwhile, allows you to set a regular delivery schedule for grocery items your family uses the most, like your favorite laundry detergent, diapers or snacks. Subscribing to an item typically entitles you to a 5% discount on it, with free shipping offered as well. And if you receive five or more subscription items on the same delivery day, Amazon bumps the savings up to a healthy 15%. You can subscribe in intervals of one to six months.

The only trick: Sometimes you can save more money by using Amazon Prime Pantry, and sometimes you can save more money with Subscribe & Save. It’s usually worth checking out both sides of Amazon to make sure you get the best deal.

MySupermarket.com

MySupermarket

MySupermarket.com is an incredibly powerful online grocery shopping price comparison site. It aggregates deals from Costco, Drugstore.com, Amazon, Soap.com, Walgreens, Diapers.com, Walmart and Target to tell you which stores offer the best prices on just the items you want to buy.

MySupermarket works like most other e-commerce sites – you simply fill your cart with items from your grocery list. When you’re done, the site will compare prices across its eight member stores to determine the least expensive way to structure the order, including taking into account the free two-day shipping you get if you subscribe to Amazon Prime. The site will even advise if you can save money by swapping out a different size or a different product, and offers free shipping on orders of $75 or more.

You pay MySupermarket.com directly, so there’s no need to complete separate checkout procedures for the different sites. It’s a surprisingly elegant solution for comparison shoppers, but be warned – in our research, it didn’t always find the absolute best price. And to take advantage of the Costco offers and Amazon Prime free shipping, you’ll need to enter your Costco and Amazon Prime membership information or subscribe.

The head-to-head comparison

To put these online grocery shopping sites to the test, we put together a brief shopping list of some common household items that a typical family might buy. We then compared unit prices across the above sites to see who is offering the best deals.

Online Grocery Services Compared — Prices as of May 14, 2014
Sam’s Club Amazon Pantry Amazon Subscribe & Save (5%) MySuperMarket.com
Charmin Ultra Soft
(price per roll)
$0.52 (36 rolls) $0.58 (12 rolls) $0.71 (40 rolls) $0.50 (36 rolls)
Dove Body Wash
(price per 24 ounce bottle)
$4.32 (pack of 3) $5.47 (single bottle) $4.97 (pack of 4) $5.49 (single bottle)
Nature Valley Sweet &
Salty granola bars
(price per bar)
$0.26 (box of 30) $0.49 (box of 6) $0.47 (6 boxes of 6) $0.83 (box of 16)

 

As you can see, there’s no one clear winner when shopping by price alone. MySupermarket.com comes out on top when shopping for Charmin toilet paper (but just barely), while Sam’s Club has the best price for Dove body wash and Nature Valley granola bars. Remember, though, you’ll pay more for shipping with Sam’s Club than the other options. And while Amazon Prime Pantry doesn’t offer the cheapest price for any of the items we checked, it does offer items in smaller quantities. That may be a better deal for smaller families who don’t need to buy 40 rolls of toilet paper at once.

Overall, my pick for favorite site goes to MySupermarket.com. There are no hefty membership fees, no subscriptions to manage, and shipping is free. You may pay more on certain individual items, but when you look at the grand total of a large order, you’re likely to save the most.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Web

‘Quick Facts’ Feature Turns Google Maps into Your Personal Tour Guide

Quick Facts
Google's "quick facts" feature serves up basic info about various places, buildings and landmarks. Google

Google Maps' new feature makes the service more informative

Google announced Wednesday that it has added a new feature to its Maps service that turns it into something of an informative guide.

Users can already click on notable landmarks and buildings for directions and addresses, but now many places feature a “quick facts” section with information about the location.

The details vary in each place, but Maps can generally give you the basics.

Click on the Empire State Building in New York City, for example, and a small box will tell you its height (1,250 feet), the number of stories (103), and the date construction began (1929). Go to Le Bernardin, one of Midtown Manhattan’s most well-known restaurants, and “quick facts” tells you when it was started (1972), its total number of Michelin stars (three) and its founders (Gilbert and Maguy le Coze).

For now, the “quick facts” feature is only available on the desktop version of Google Maps, but it’s an addition that makes the service more interactive and more fun to use.

TIME Web

8 Best Sites for Incredible Retina Images and Desktop Wallpaper

Back in 2012, shortly after Apple got the whole “Retina” ball rolling, the pickings for beautiful high-resolution desktop wallpapers were pretty slim. The list I compiled in October 2012 highlighted just five sites, and I had to scour the place to drum that many up.

Thankfully those five were terrific, flush with beautiful imagery, much of it captured and cultivated by professional photographers, talented artists and enthusiasts of eclectic cultural miscellany. They’ve more than kept my 2800 x 1880 pixel workspace happy. But we’re a ways from 2012, and with 4K and higher screens on the rise, the world’s filling up with post-1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) content.

So here’s my list of picks updated for 2014, including the five original sites — still some of the best around — but with several lovely additions. Keep tabs on these, and you’re looking at enough art to swap your desktop or mobile device’s wallpaper several times a day for years to come.

InterfaceLIFT

InterfaceLIFT

If I had to pick one site, it would still be this one (it was my favorite last time, too). The photographic and post-shot editing talent on display in this joint is second to none, and the images now roll up past my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro’s 2880 x 1880 resolution to 3840 x 2400 (as well as 3860 x 2160, the 4K ultra high definition TV standard). The site itself is also one of the most elegantly designed and easy to navigate, each picture annotated with the photographer’s capture device specs and post-processing notes.

Cost: Free via website, $6 for Macdrops OS X menubar, $1.99 for Backdrops iPhone/iPod, $2.99 for Backdrops iPad

Vladstudio

Vladstudio

You won’t find many photographs at Vladstudio, but you will find some of the best eclectic digital art on the web. Russian artist Vlad Gerasimov’s collection of desktop wallpapers is gorgeous, a trove of clever, imaginative and occasionally humorous themes that range from seasonal showcases and riffs on maps of the world to playful musings on digital life. Note: the desktop resolutions currently top out at 2880 x 1880, but the site includes support for most Apple and Android devices as well as multi-monitor (up to three) ultra-wide images.

Cost: Free for lower resolution images, $14.99 for a premium membership that unlocks the high-definition versions (the membership cost is one-time, and thus for life).

WallpapersWide

WallpapersWide

Think of WallpapersWide as the grab bag of Retina wallpaper sites, offering everything from cartoons and celebrities to “motors,” music, nature and “vintage” backgrounds (you can sort by any of those categories, and dozens more). The site auto-detects your resolution, too, though if you’re running a scaled interface, like most Retina MacBook Pros, you’ll need to manually input your native resolution since the site detects the considerably lower-scaled one.

The only caveat: Some of the wallpapers top out below resolutions like 2560 x 1600 or 2880 x 1880, so be sure to use the handy “Filter By” resolution option on the left column. That said, sorting by 2880 x 1880 turned up well over 12,000 pages of material (in 2012, there were just 4,000 at this resolution) and the site now supports crazy-high resolutions and ratios, up to 5:4 and 10240 x 4096.

Cost: Free

Digital Blasphemy

Digital Blasphemy

Another multifaceted digital art site, Digital Blasphemy offers splendid 3D-rendered original art by Ryan Bliss, who’s been selling his work through the site for years. While many of the compositions are intentionally idiosyncratic, you’ll find glamour shots of beautified landscapes here that in some cases look so photorealistic you’ll be hard pressed to discern fantasy from reality. Resolution coverage is excellent, too, running up to 7860 x 1600 (triple-screen 16:10).

Cost: Free in the “free” gallery, but most artwork is membership-based. Memberships range from $15 for 100 days to a lifetime option for $99.

WallpaperFX

WallpaperFX

Like WallpapersWide, WallpaperFX offers a hodgepodge of high-resolution pictures (celebrity, animals, nature, etc.) as well as rendered and tinkered-with artwork, with resolutions running up to the 4K TV spec (3840 x 2160). It sports a notably smaller collection than most, but has its share of zingers, like the one pictured here.

Cost: Free

2048pixels

2048pixels

2048pixels doesn’t support the Retina MacBook Pro family’s 2560 x 1600 or 2880 x 1880 resolutions, but it remains the go-to site for the the Retina iPad and iPad Mini (2048 x 1536).

Before you download one of 2048pixels’ wallpapers, be sure to fiddle with the “FX” button in each image’s upper-left-hand corner, where you can actually custom-tailor the properties like blurring, textures (lines, mesh grains) and pixelation.

Cost: Free

MrWallpaper

MrWallpaper

Another site with a smaller collection but plenty of gems, MrWallpaper has you covered up to 2880 x 1880 and offers a fast, simple, ad-free interface that lets you sort by general categories, filter by resolution or drop keywords into a search box.

Cost: Free

Google Images

Google

I mentioned Google Images last time in passing, but it’s really become a pretty terrific alternative to using a fixed site, surfacing content across the spectrum of crawled art sites and blogs, and you can restrict your search to high-definition images using Google’s search tools (including the option to sort by exact pixel sizes). If you’re doing a general “larger than” search, be sure to turn on the helpful “show sizes” option in the menubar, too.

Cost: Free

TIME Web

Last-Minute Digital Mother’s Day Gifts She’ll Love

It’s been a busy week for you, but that’s not an excuse for not getting her a gift for Mother’s Day. There’s still time to put the thought and effort into choosing a great gift.

Here are our top picks of digital Mother’s Day gifts that will save you a hurried trip to the store.

Giftly: A more personal gift card

Giftly

If your mom is hard to shop for, you can give her a personal gift card through Giftly. The gift card service lets you send money along with a suggestion of how you’d see Mom using it — from buying coffee in the morning to splurging on a spa day — to show you’re really thinking of her.

Once your mom has spent it, she can share what she did. Customize the way your Giftly gift card looks with colors and a message, then choose to send it by email or text message, or print it out and give it yourself.

Price: As much as you’d like to spend plus a small service fee, from giftly.com

Bluum: A monthly gift box for expectant and new moms

Bluum

Bluum is best for expectant moms, or new moms of babies 0-12 months old. Each month, Mom will receive a gift box filled with five or more full-size products based on the child’s age, with one or two items for Mom.

Expectant moms will receive products for them along with a few items for her newborn child. Boxes have a value of $40 or more.

Price: $24.95 for 1 month, $69 for 3 months, $126 for 6 months, $249.50 for 12 months at Bluum.com

Scribd: An ebook subscription service

Scribd

If your mom has taken the plunge into ebooks, consider a gift subscription to an online book service like Scribd. This Netflix-type service gives her access to more than 300,000 books, including New York Times bestsellers, non-fiction, fiction in every genre and even young adult books.

She can save any books she wants to read to her library for easy access. And while she’s reading, the books are synced across iOS devices, Android devices (including Kindle Fire) and any computer with a web browser.

Price: $8.99 per month for unlimited books with a free starter month at Scribd.com

Umba: A monthly gift box of handmade goods

Umba

A perfect gift for the mom who spends hours surfing Etsy each week, Umbabox offers gorgeous handmade gifts delivered each month. Umba is a Swahili word meaning “to create,” and they curate either one large handmade item or several small handmade items. Inside, there’s also a “meet the artists” card with information about the people who created the items.

Price: Starts at $25 per month at Umba.com

TwoSmiles: For non-monetary gifts

HP

Mother’s Day is about appreciating Mom, and sometimes the best gifts are those you can’t buy, like breakfast in bed, letting her sleep in or a hug. TwoSmiles makes it easy to give those gifts with its free print-at-home greeting cards. You personalize your card, pick your gift—a coupon for a non-monetary gift or a gift card to places like Sephora, Spafinder or Harry London Chocolates—and print. If you won’t be seeing Mom in person, you can also email or send the card on Facebook.

Price: free at TwoSmiles.com

Rescue Gift: For giving to others

Rescue.org

If you want to avoid the consumerism, give a donation in Mom’s name to the International Rescue Committee to benefit mothers in need. Choose from options like Emergency Care for a Child, A Safe Delivery and Maternal Health Care, among others. Mom will receive a personalized print or digital card to let her know how her Rescue Gift is making a difference.

Price: Gifts start at $18 on Gifts.Rescue.org

This article was written by Suzanne Kantra and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME FindTheBest

Did the Internet Just Make the World Smarter?

It’s easy to hate on the Internet. We used to read books. Today, we read Twitter feeds. Before the web, we used our time wisely. Today, we waste time constantly. Twenty years ago, we had thoughtful, in-person conversations, focusing for hours on a single, worthy topic. Today, we fire off nasty, anonymous YouTube comments, laced with sarcasm and typed from the lonely sanctums of our bedrooms, dorms and cubicles. We have, you might say, gotten lazier, meaner and dumber.

Or have we? We set out to compare Internet growth around the world with changes in student test scores. Specifically, we used The World Bank’s 2012 Internet penetration figures (the latest available) and test results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in our analysis.

Would the Internet’s myriad cat gifs, message boards, and viral videos dull students’ minds, or enhance their logical reasoning and critical thinking skills?

We’ll take a quick look at Internet penetration figures by country from 2000 to 2012. Then we’ll find out whether students’ test scores have improved (or declined) over the same period. Finally, we’ll see what kind of conclusions we can draw.

The following chart compares the percentage of Internet users per country, both in 2000 and 2012. (Note that we limited our sample to the 30 countries where we had full data for both Internet use and test scores.)

Back in 2000, Norway had the greatest proportion of Internet users, at 52%. Meanwhile, Russia had the lowest percentage, at only 2%. In 2012, Iceland led the pack with 96%, while Mexico placed last, at 38%. Note that the chart is ordered from left to right by the percentage increase in Internet penetration* from 2000 to 2012. In other words, Russia (far left) saw the greatest percentage increase in Internet users, while Canada (far right) saw the least.

*Further note: “percentage increase” is calculated by the proportional rise, not by absolute percentage points. So a rise from 25% to 50% is counted as a 100% increase in penetration for our purposes.

Now, let’s look at how each country’s test scores improved (or declined) over the same period. Specifically, we are looking at the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which measures 15-year-old students’ knowledge and skills in three key areas: reading, mathematics, and science. (Note that the countries appear in the same order as the chart above.)

We see the most significant improvements from Brazil, Latvia, Poland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Germany and Liechtenstein. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia actually show sizable declines.

More intriguingly, however, we see that nearly all the big gains occurred on the left side of the chart—that is, those countries with Internet penetration under 20% in 2000, but between 50% and 80% in 2012. Conversely, for countries that already had a sizable Internet user base in 2000, test scores remained level or declined.

Here’s what we get when we plot these two figures:

With a correlation of 0.41, we can safely say that the relationship between PISA score improvement and Internet growth is moderately strong. Big increases in Internet access tended to go hand-in-hand with better scores on the international test. Perhaps the web hasn’t been such a bad innovation after all.

Before we get too excited, however, we should be clear that correlation does not equal causation. While access to the Internet has potentially contributed to better test scores in many countries (perhaps through better access to information, more self-learning, and more ways to connect with classmates), there are several other factors at play, from changes in wealth to improved education systems to other forms of technology outside of the Internet.

And even if we stick to the hypothesis—that more Internet means better test scores—we should note that the hypothesis fails rather obviously among the world’s most plugged-in nations. Yes, the jump from 10% Internet penetration to 50% seems to lead to smarter students, but from 50% to 90%, test scores leveled off or got worse. Even with all those hilarious cat gifs, it appears the Internet might sometimes be too much of a good thing.

Here, for your reference, are the raw PISA scores (out of 600) and Internet penetration:

(Internet usage aside, test score bragging rights belong to Japan, Finland and Liechtenstein, the three highest scoring countries in 2012’s exam. Greece, Mexico and Brazil round out the list as the lowest scoring countries. Better luck in 2015.)

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Technologizer

Facebook Wants to Do to Mobile Apps What It Did to the Web, and That’s O.K.

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg compares the Facebook platform for mobile developers to iOS, Android and Windows Phone at the f8 conference in San Francisco on April 30, 2014 Erin Lubin -- Bloomberg / Getty Images

The most striking thing about the keynote at Facebook’s f8 conference in San Francisco was something that only became apparent after it was over: Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives spent an hour on stage talking about new stuff, and none of it was about Facebook.

Or at least not if you define Facebook as being the social-networking site and app of the same name.

Instead, all the news–and there was tons of it–related to features Facebook is rolling out to help mobile developers build more powerful apps and make more money from them.

A sampling of what got announced:

  • New features for signing into apps using Facebook will let you customize your privacy settings and log in anonymously;
  • AppLinks is a standard that lets mobile apps integrate with each other, so that one app can send you directly to a specific feature in another app, which can then route you back to a specific place in the original one;
  • The company is also offering technology to let mobile apps that normally need web access to store data locally on a device, thereby enabling them to work in offline mode;
  • There’s a new mobile Like button and tools that allow developers to let users share content with specific friends through Facebook Messenger;
  • The Facebook Audience Network will let apps display ads sold by Facebook, and allow marketers to target their ads using information Facebook knows about users, much as already happens on Facebook itself.

Zuckerberg described the company’s vision as offering a “cross-platform platform,” competing in some respects with Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone without forcing developers to build apps for a specific mobile operating system.

It’s a logical extension of what the company has been doing for the majority of its existence: Providing web developers with features that (A) help them offer powerful features without having to build them; and (B) lash them tightly to Facebook, thereby making the web even more dependent on Mark Zuckerberg’s social network as the primary way to keep track of people and their identities.

At the keynote, Zuckerberg said that third-party sites and apps make almost a half-trillion calls to the Facebook API a day–each one representing an instance of Facebook powering something on a site or app other than Facebook itself. Making this infrastructure reliable is so important that he declared that the company has retired its famous mantra–”Move fast and break things”–and now wants to move fast while ensuring that it’s providing robust infrastructure for all the companies that depend on it.

People who don’t like or trust Facebook–a minority, but a passionately vocal one–presumably won’t like the idea of its tendrils stretching deeper and deeper into more and more apps. But how should the rest of us feel about the prospect?

Me, I’m O.K. with it–optimistic, even, that it will lead to better apps. Here’s why:

  • The alternative, oftentimes, is nothing. A pretty high percentage of mobile app developers are small shops with a very limited ability to build complex features from scratch. Facebook’s goal is to let them make their apps more sophisticated by plugging in a few lines of code–a strategy the web has embraced for years now, and which has (mostly) made it a better place.
  • Facebook’s competition is usually another big, powerful company. If apps don’t work with the Facebook Audience Network to monetize themselves through targeted ads, they’ll do something similar with Google or somebody else. Better for Google to face competition from Facebook than for it to end up dominating advertising even more than it already does. And as Zuckerberg said, much of what Facebook is doing provides an alternative to what Apple, Google and Microsoft are doing with their respective operating systems.
  • The privacy controls look reasonable. Consumers have memories like elephants, and Facebook’s reputation is still tarnished by blunders it made years ago when it moved too fast and broke too many things–such as with Beacon, a 2007 advertising technology that left members surprised to find information about their activities elsewhere showing up on their feeds. But at f8, the keynote began with demos of the new granular privacy controls and anonymous login option, both of which should help users take advantage of the Facebook-ization of mobile apps in a way that works for them.

You don’t have to be a Facebook hater to worry, sometimes, about one company controlling so much of the technological plumbing that powers other companies’ services and apps. Ultimately, though, Facebook has became so essential in so many places because it’s built so many useful technologies and has done a better job than anyone else of selling the world on their advantages.

To put it another way: If the idea of Facebook being everywhere bothers you, don’t blame Facebook. Blame everybody else who’s failed, in most instances, to beat it to the punch or provide more compelling alternatives.

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