TIME Innovation

TED’s Revered Founder Shares Secret to a Good Conference

Richard Saul Wurman
Richard Saul Wurman Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

The splendid exile of the genius Richard Saul Wurman


This is one of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

In Newport, RI, lives an old magician in splendid, self-imposed exile.

Richard Saul Wurman, best known as the founder of the TED conference, has made it his job to produce clarity out of the complex.

His eclectic body of work boasts over 80 books, including the original Access city guides, the bestsellers Information Anxiety and Information Anxiety II, as well as esteemed companions on all topics from football, to estate-planning, to healthcare. He has founded 40-odd conferences and chaired numerous information-mapping projects.

In conversation, Wurman speaks with unapologetic honesty, which one comes to appreciate. He has light eyes and a hawk-like profile. He describes himself as “abrasive, but also charming.”

Wurman lives with his wife in a 19th-century mansion on eight high-walled acres. They have few friends in Newport. He admits they prefer it that way. “I live reclusively behind a fence,” he jokes, “The town put it up to keep me in.”


Outside of Newport, Wurman is someone who enjoys what the New York Times describes as “a happy notoriety as a connector and king-maker.”

“My interests are only apparently varied,” he claims. “I’m Johnny-one-note. My passion is less the subject, and more the patterns. Everything connects and can be mapped, and the mapping of that is fascinating to me.”

Of his business philosophy, Wurman says he sees “every book, every conference, every design” as an experiment on how he can get people closer to “telling the truth.”

When asked about how he developed his mission, Wurman reflects on his college days. He had been an accomplished student of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with the highest honors. Despite this success, he eventually came to realize that he “didn’t actually understand anything.” He claims, “I realized that just because somebody told me something, it doesn’t mean I understood it. And that was terrifying.”

“I’m not very bright intellectually, but I’ve decided to not by humiliated by my ignorance,” he says. “What a joy it is, to really not know something and slowly fill it in with things you understand!”

Wurman claims to be consistently self-serving.

“I use myself as the basis,” he says. “Every time, it’s a journey from me not knowing, to knowing about something.” Nor does he believe in complicating his goals by worrying over how people will receive his projects. “If you try to have that effect, it affects your own work. I don’t want to change my work. I already have a client. That client’s me.”

His latest project is Urban Observatories, a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian (complete with its own app), dedicated to providing an intuitive platform to compare live-population trend maps of major cities.

“I’m just trying to understand things,” he says, “I’m not trying to change the world.”

Yet he acknowledges that the implications of the project are immense. From enabling governments to make use of the failures and successes of other cities, to helping families decide where to take root and companies where to relocate, Wurman’s project explodes the potential of comparative cartography by conducting its study on an unprecedented scale.


Richard Saul Wurman coined the term “information architect” to describe his particular set of talents.

It is easy to see how his architectural background continues to influence his work. Wurman’s projects deal deftly with questions of experience design, structural integrity and intention and result.

The 18-minute TED Talk had been his answer to question of how to deliver the “Next Big Idea” in an age pressed for time. He sold TED in 2002, after which, he claims, the conference became “appalling—it’s edited and teleprompted now.”

In 2004, Wurman advised his friend Saul Kaplan as Kaplan’s nonprofit, The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI, was designing its first annual Collaborative Innovation Summit. As Wurman mentored Kaplan, they worked by subtracting from the usual style of business conferences.

They eliminated the podium and numerous projection screens in favor of a simple, well-lit stage. There was no dress code; “I don’t own a suit,” Wurman says. They requested from their speakers personal stories of transformation, not speeches or pitches.

Wurman looks forward to returning to the BIF Summit in September. The summit, he claims, “unequivocally attracts smart individuals who tell a fresh story about their passions, ideas and failures.” He adds, “Looking in the gray area between these stories is where good, inspiring concepts will arise.”

Wurman shares his secret to hosting a good conference: “Have a dinner party,” he says. “Invite people you’re interested in and have conversation with them.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME medecine

The Hot New App That’s Full of Really Gross Photos

Courtesy of Figure 1

It's not what you think...

This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

A word of warning: the photographs found on the mobile application Figure 1 may make your stomach turn. They include—and you should skip to the next paragraph if descriptions of medical injuries will nauseate you—a swollen bloody thumb, recently reconstructed after a fireworks injury; a 17 year-old’s foot charred black by an electrical burn; and a worm pulled from a patient’s anus. Yes, really.

This is the stuff that medical professionals don’t see everyday, which is exactly why they’re flocking to this photo-sharing app. Though tiny, it has proven extremely popular since it launched two years ago. The app now counts an audience of 125,000, and its parent company, which shares its name, estimates that 15% of medical students in the United States use it. Which may be one reason why investors are interested: on August 6, the Toronto-based startup will announce that it raised $4 million in funding led by Union Square Ventures.

Figure 1 essentially offers a visual shorthand for healthcare professionals looking to compare notes. In my opening essay for Fortune‘s The Future of the Image series, I made the case for the rise of visual literacy as people increasingly substitute photos for text. This trend will have a huge impact on business. As pictures replace words, tools that allow professionals to take and compare photos have an increasingly important role to play in the enterprise.

Already, a host of software applications are emerging to support this. Architizer invites architects to uplioad and share projects, for example. FoKo offers a secure, private enterprise photo-sharing app designed for companies and counts Whole Foods as a customer.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Cleaning

The Best Handheld Vacuum Money Can Buy

It sucks—in a good way

This post was created in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article at TheWirecutter.com.

By Liam McCabe

For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.

We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.

Who needs a portable vacuum?

A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.

(That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)

Why we like this handheld vacuum above all else

The Black & Decker 20 V Max Lithium Flex Vac BDH2020FLFH looks more like a miniature canister vacuum than an old-school Dustbuster, but it’s a much more versatile cleaner because of that. The 4-foot stretchable hose can unwrap from around the body, making it more adept at cleaning at weird angles, in tight spaces, or above your head—i.e. the exact types of tasks you’d want a hand vac for. Since the hose unwraps from the body, it’s lighter and easier to wrangle than a regular all-in-one portable vac (and it’s actually smaller than it looks in pictures, too).

handheld vacuum

The BDH2020FLFH and (l-r) the crevice tool, combo brush (attached), and pet hair tool attachments.

The design advantages really stand out when the BDH2020FLFH goes to work where other hand vacs struggle—like under car seats, for example. Of course, you can also swing it around all in one piece like any other handheld vacuum, too.

A bunch of the Flex Vac’s cleaning prowess comes from its attachments. The combo brush helps knock loose the particles that want to cling to fabric or carpet, a task where other hand vacs can struggle. The crevice tool is helpful even just as a wand extender, but also makes it easier to get in nooks like the storage compartments built into car doors, the tight areas around car seats, and between the columns of old-school radiators, where decades of dust can build up.

And if you’re a pet owner, the pet hair removal tool is a big help. It’s nothing fancy: just a textured, rubberized head with a hole in the middle. Ideally, you’d use a mini turbo brush tool for hair, but not many hand vacs come with one of those, and this simple design does the job just fine. It’s not perfect, but it works better and faster than trying to pick hair up with a regular vacuum head, lint roller, or masking tape.

None of this versatility or thoughtful design would matter if the vacuum lacked the power to suck up what you put in front of it. Fortunately, it has plenty of it, producing 25 air watts (a metric used to measure the movement of air through a vacuum cleaner) of suction. On paper, that’s a bit stronger than last year’s version and many competing models, which already had plenty of suction, so anything extra is gravy.

Black & Decker claims that the BDH2020FLFH takes 4 hours to recharge and has a 16-minute runtime. In our testing, that was pretty accurate.

Once you’re done cleaning up whatever mess you’ve made, the BDH2020FLFH’s dirt canister is easy to clean out: pull a latch on the side of the vacuum’s body, tip it into the garbage, give it a thwack, and you’re done. It’s also washable, which is important for keeping airflow going strong since the filter gets dirty pretty fast.

handheld vacuum

The Flex Vac’s dust bin swings open for easy emptying, and can be removed from the vacuum for cleaning.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The BDH2020FLFH pulls a respectable 25 air watts of suction, but that’s not quite as powerful as some cheaper Dustbuster-style models, which can hit 35 air watts. Sure, more suction works faster, but the Flex Vac’s other upsides meant that it cleaned more completely in our tests.

Other things to consider

In a nutshell, our favorite handheld vacuum is right for most. But we have other picks for people who need to spend a little less or want specific things out of theirs. The Dyson DC34 has even more suction than our pick, but at $185, it’s a little rich for a portable vacuum. The best $50 pick is the Black and Decker PHV1810 18V Pivot Vac, even if it can’t deal with pet hair very well and batteries are weaker and take longer to charge. For a specific corded handheld vacuum to deal with pet hair, the Eureka EasyClean 71B for $38 is a good pick.

After a lot of time researching testing handheld vacuums, its pretty clear to us that the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac is the handheld vacuum we’d get, however.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME cybersecurity

Surveillance in the Movies: Fact vs. Fiction

Experts at a hacker conference answer the question every spy-movie watcher has asked: “Can they really do that?”

For those of us who don’t work at a spy agency, the “intel” we’ve gathered on what state surveillance is like comes primarily from movies and TV shows. But just how realistic are those portrayals? A panel of experts at Defcon, one of the world’s top hacker conferences taking place in Las Vegas over the weekend, had some answers.

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

“You’re collecting all this hay. How many needles are you finding in the hay?” says Kevin Bankston, policy director for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, describing the practice of bulk collection. The answer? Not many. Bulk collection has led to “one case where they convicted a cabdriver in San Diego for donating less than $10,000 to a Somali terror group,” Bankston said. “So the question is: Is it worth collecting all of our phone records for that conviction?”

When it comes specifically to this Simpsons clip, Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, says there have indeed been cases of “local surveillance being rolled out in the buses.”

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

No clip available online, but, to summarize: high-tech devices listening in on conversations around the world pick up on a single phrase — “blackbriar” — that tips off the government.

“As a civil libertarian, this movie was like cinematic crack to me,” Bankston said. With the quantity of data the NSA intercepts and the data-mining abilities of modern computers, picking out a keyword from a random conversation overheard by a surveillance program is not far fetched, he said. “This is not fiction.”

Brazil (1985)

The scene above depicts government agents discussing the use of surveillance tools to eavesdrop on a love interest.

“This brings me back to my days inside the belly of the beast,” says Timothy Edgar, who from 2006 to 2009 served as the first deputy for civil liberties in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “It’s a very realistic depiction of the kinds of compliance issues we had to address,” he said, though in reality “the technology was only slightly more obsolete.” According to Edgar, a review of NSA practices by the agency’s inspector general found that over a 10-year period there were 12 instances of intentional misuse of NSA surveillance, all relating to love interests.

The Dark Knight (2008)

A program that uses the microphones in the cell phones to create a sonar map of the city is mostly, but not entirely, insane.

“It’s a great mixture of actual plausible technology and really stupid technology,” Bankston said. Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies routinely take control of cell phones by remote in order to turn on microphones and cameras to spy on targets, but doing so with every phone in town at once would probably overwhelm the network. Bankston adds that if 30 million citizens of Gotham brought a class-action lawsuit against Bruce Wayne for this violation of the Wiretap Act, he’d be on the hook, per damages prescribed in the law, for $300 billion.

The Company You Keep (2012)

“This is a pretty straightforward depiction of cell-phone tracking,” Bankston said, which is “routinely done by local law enforcement, as well as the Feds, as well as the intelligence community.”

Minority Report (2002)

This kind of government search — thermal imaging followed by spider robots scurrying through a building and terrifying its inhabitants — is clearly unconstitutional, not to mention creepy. What’s interesting, Edgar notes, is the question of why it’s creepy.

“Is it the fact that they could find Tom Cruise by extracting this data from people in the apartment or the fact that they did it in a creepy way?” he said. (I.e., with bots that look like insects many find terrifying in their own right.) “What if we could just extract the data from the Internet of things that [were] already in your house?” With our homes becoming smarter and more wired, it’s easy to see how timely that question is.

Enemy of the State (1998)

In this scene, the head of the NSA tries to persuade a Congressman not to stop a bill that would give the agency broad new surveillance powers. The Congressman makes the argument — which we hear echoed today by firms like Google and Facebook — that the surveillance state doesn’t just invade privacy, but is bad for business at companies that depend on the trust of clients, including people outside the U.S.

Bankston noted that in the film, (spoiler alert) the NSA goes on to assassinate the Congressman. Edgar pointed out that any such assassination attempt would clearly step on Central Intelligence Agency toes.

“They would object very strongly to the NSA’s doing that,” he said.

TIME Companies

Here’s What to Expect From Apple’s New iPhone

AFP/Getty Images

Rumors abound about the event and the types of new features the phone may include

This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Apple is expected to debut its new iPhone 6 at a media event on Sept. 9. The exact details of the launch haven’t been revealed, but rumors abound about the event and the types of new features the phone may include. Here are a few of them.

  • If Apple keeps with tradition, the phone will be released for sale on Sept. 19, a Friday, according to Apple Insider.
  • There are supposedly two versions of the phone coming, one with a 4.7-inch screen and a 5.5-inch option that’s designed to challenge Samsung’s larger-screened phones, according to Re/code.
  • To keep up with the expected demand, The Wall Street Journal says Apple is asking suppliers to make between 70 million and 80 million phones by Dec. 30.
  • The new phones are expected to be lighter and thinner, with a better camera, according to Mac Rumors. They’re also supposed to resemble the Apple iPod Touch.
  • One of the latest rumors pertains to more battery life. There’s expected to be much more of it in the new phones, according to Apple Insider. The site says that a new 2,100mAh battery may be installed in the next generation of iPhones, meaning a 45.8 percent increase from the current 1,440mAh model used in the iPhone 5s.

For more, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME technology

Hackers Unveil Their Plan to Change Email Forever

"They’re going to keep coming after us,” Ladar Levison, creator of an encrypted email service used by Edward Snowden, said at Defcon on Friday

The creator of an ultra-secure email service once said to be used by Edward Snowden unveiled his next project at a major hacker conference Friday: he and others like him want to change the very nature of email forever.

Ladar Levison, creator of the Lavabit encrypted email provider, was forced in August of last year to give investigators access to an account reportedly used by Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, after a tug-of-war with federal authorities. But rather than compromise the privacy of his other 400,000-plus email users, Levison says, he shut the entire project down. A similar encrypted email provider, Silent Circle, took heed and shuttered its own service to pre-empt any federal authorities that might come demanding information from it as well.

Out of those ashes, Levison and others launched the Dark Mail project, which is developing Dime, a set of new email protocols its creators hope will revolutionize the way the world communicates online.

“If I sound a little bit upset, it’s because I am,” Levison told a packed ballroom Friday at Defcon, a top hacker conference held annually in Las Vegas.

“I’m not upset that I got railroaded and I had to shut down my business,” said Levison. “I’m upset because we need a Mil-Spec [military grade] cryptographic mail system for the entire planet just to be able to talk to our friends and family without any kind of fear of government surveillance.”

Levison devoted much of his talk to arguing there’s a need for a secure emailing system in a world where government entities like the NSA have broad legal authority — and even broader technical capabilities — to conduct surveillance en masse, both in the U.S. and abroad. “With the type of metadata collection that’s going on today, we have guilt by association,” he said. “Imagine being put on a no-fly list because you happen to sit next to a criminal at a convention like this.”

Jon Callas, chief technology officer of Silent Circle and a co-founder of the Dark Mail project, told TIME that “the biggest problem we have today with email is that it was designed in the early 1970s and it was not designed for the problems we have today. Even the standard email encryption that we have today protects the content but not the metadata.”

Metadata — information like the identity of the sender or the time and date a message was sent — has been a key target of NSA surveillance. “Ironically, we have been protecting the stuff that they’re not collecting,” Callas said.

Dime uses multiple layers of cryptography — think Russian nesting dolls — to protect an email’s content and metadata from beginning to end as an email is passed through the Internet from a sender to a recipient, or recipients. The idea is to create an email system in which no service provider has all the information about a message, so there is no entity (like Lavabit, for example) for federal authorities to come down on.

“Each doll is labeled only with the stuff that is needed,” Callas told TIME. “So if you’re on Google, you get a doll that says ‘This doll came from Yahoo.’ Then you hand it to the next layer and they open it up and say, ‘This is for Alice.’ Then when Alice opens it up, Alice gets the whole message. But all along the way, my system only knows that it’s supposed to go to Google, not that it’s for Alice … It separates stuff up so that you don’t end up in a situation where anybody along the path knows everything,” Callas said.

Dime’s creators hope that enough people will begin using the service on their own that a major email service provider, like Google, Yahoo or Microsoft — all of whom are already exploring ways to better encrypt users’ messages — adopts it and it snowballs from there. Ultimately, what the Dark Mail project is aiming for is nothing less than a complete transformation of the way email works on planet Earth.

“It all has to be rebuilt,” Callas said.

TIME Retail

Amazon Publishes Hachette CEO’s Email in Latest Salvo Over E-Book Pricing

Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone
Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. David Ryder—Getty Images

One author called the move 'overtly divisive'

Updated at 2:05 p.m.

In its latest move in an escalating battle over e-book pricing, Amazon attacked book publisher Hachette in a strongly-worded letter Saturday which includes the Hachette CEO’s email address and encourages authors to contact him directly.

Amazon and Hachette have been locked in a duel over the pricing of e-books. Amazon argues their price should be lower, while Hachette’s holding out for higher prices. Hachette’s camp has also accused Amazon of making it more difficult for customers to find and buy books from publishers with which Amazon is negotiating new terms.

In its letter, the Seattle-based online retailer reiterated its case for lower e-book pricing, saying that because of the absence of shipping, handling and printing costs, “e-books can and should be less expensive.” On top of that, Amazon has argued that e-books are just 1% of the revenue of Hachette’s parent company, and that the company could agree to Amazon’s demands with little financial impact.

In its letter, Amazon compared e-books to the advent of paperback books, which it said aroused resistance from authors like George Orwell who ostensibly argued paperback books would ruin the industry. “Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment,” Amazon says in its letter.

(In fact, George Orwell was not opposed to paperback books, and Amazon’s letter quotes the 1984 author misleadingly, as the New York Times reports. Orwell also was ambivalent about lowering book prices, calling cheaper books a “disaster” for authors and publishers.)

Amazon’s note also urges authors to email Hatchette CEO Michael Pietsch with specific talking points and publicly disclosed Pietsch’s email address.

“We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices,” reads Amazon’s letter. “We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.”

One author who received the letter and has published e-books through Amazon spoke out against the company’s tactics.

“It’s overtly divisive, pitting authors against one another,” San Francisco-resident Ron Martinez told the Wall Street Journal of Amazon’s latest salvo. Martinez is the CEO of an e-book discoverability service. “It’s astonishingly poor form to publish an executive’s email.”

Amazon’s letter comes just after over nine hundred authors signed a separate message to Amazon calling on the company to stop blocking the sale of Hachette books. Literary icons Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen King, Douglas Preston, Robert A. Caro, Junot Díaz, Malcolm Gladwell, Lemony Snicket (the pen name of Daniel Handler), Michael Chabon, Michael Lewis, and Jon Krakauer are just a smattering of the names who signed that note, the New York Times reports.

The authors’ letter, which also publicly discloses Jeff Bezos’ email address, is set to run as a full-page ad in the Times this weekend.

TIME Security

Here’s How the Feds Are Teaming Up With Hackers to Save Us All from Robocalls

Hacking Conference
Hackers participating at the 2011 Defcon conference in Las Vegas, Aug. 5, 2011. Isaac Brekken—AP

The FTC wants hackers to build "honeypots" to defeat a robocaller named Rachel

The Federal Trade Commission is at one of the world’s biggest hacker conferences this weekend, where hackers are competing to help save us all from robocalls.

No one has ever seen her, but she may have the most infamous voice in America. “Rachel” is the most prolific robocall bot in the United States, and the FTC has turned to some of the best hackers in the world to try to stop her. At Defcon—one of (if not the) biggest hacker conferences on earth—the agency is hosting a three-phase competition to build a “honeypot” to lure and catch robocallers in the act. The “Zapping Rachel” competition is handing out $17,000 in cash prizes to winners of three competitions: one to build a honeypot, one to attack a honeypot to find its vulnerabilities, and one to analyze data a honeypot collects on robocalls.

A honeypot is essentially an information system that can collect information about robocalls,” said Patti Hsue, a staff attorney representing the FTC at Defcon. “How it’s designed, how it operates is completely up to the designer.”

As with many happenings at a conference of hackers, the technical details can get complex fast. But the basic idea is familiar to any fan of spy fiction—in espionage a honeypot is a trap in which a mark, like a secret agent, is lured into a trap by sexual seduction (think of about half the vixens who show up in James Bond flicks). In this case, hackers are building and testing the honeypot. Rachel and her ilk are the mark.

“It’s ‘Rachel from Cardholder Services.’” Hsue said. “She is one of the most, I think, hated voices in the U.S. We get so many complaints against Rachel and her clones or her minions or whatever you want to call them. There are a lot of companies that try to perpetrate the same scam using the same, you know, pickup line.”

The Robocall problem has become markedly worse in the last decade, as the Internet has matured and become increasingly intertwined with a digitized phone system. Under FTC regulations, all robocalls to cell phones are illegal, as are unsolicited robocalls to any phone number on the federal Do Not Call registry. The FTC does have its own honeypot already, but the agency won’t comment on it beyond the fact of its existence.

Just how many illegal robocalls are made in the U.S. is difficult to pin down. The best data the FTC has on robocalls comes from complaints the agency receives regarding violations of the Do Not Call registry. In 2009, the FTC received 1.8 million complaints for violations of the registry; in 2011, 2.3 million complaints. In 2013, with about 223.4 million phone numbers on the registry, the FTC received 3.75 million complaints. And that only represents people who take the time to file a formal complaint. Many others surely just let out a disgusted huff and hang up the phone.

From among all those millions of illegal robocalls made to Americans, the FTC has brought a little over 100 enforcement actions against violators. It’s not that regulators aren’t trying, but making a robocall these days is extremely easy from a technical perspective, while busting a robocaller—not to mention bringing legal action against one—is quite difficult.

Which is why the FTC has turned to a community of hackers at a conference notorious—somewhat unfairly—for activity that stretches the bounds of legality. The top competitors will be announced Sunday, though final winners won’t be announced until a later date.

E1nstein—a.k.a. Hugo Dominguez, Jr. to people outside of the hacker scene, a naval reservist who works in IT—is competing in phase 2 of the competition, testing a honeypot for flaws by trying to circumvent the technology, place an undetected call to a honeypot, or provide false information about the origin of the call.

“That’s something I’m good at,” he said. “I’m able to find flaws in things whether it’s physical security or technology. Anything.”

TIME Gadgets

Here Come the iPhone 6 Rumors

Here's a look at what you can expect when Apple announces the iPhone 6

Both Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal report that Apple will unveil its two new iPhones at a Sept. 9 event.

According to reports, the iPhone 6 will come in two sizes, a 4.7″ and a 5.5″ screen size. This will help Apple in its efforts to appeal to a larger market internationally, where the desire for larger screens have hurt its sales in the global market.

Mac Rumors has said the newest iPhone to be debuted from Apple will be thinner and lighter with an updated processor.

TIME Security

Yahoo Is Making It Harder for the NSA to Read Your Emails

Encryption will help your messages stay private

Yahoo announced Thursday it will encrypt its email service by early next year, joining Google and Microsoft in an effort to create an email system that prevents government officials and hackers from reading users’ messages. It’s a major step for Yahoo in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, and it reflects the commitment of the major technology companies to securing users’ data.

With Yahoo’s announcement, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, email encryption will protect nearly one billion email users. There are 110 million Yahoo email users and over 425 million unique users of Google’s Gmail service. Microsoft says there are over 400 million active Outlook.com and Hotmail accounts. Widespread email encryption of the kind Yahoo is announcing is a huge blow to government surveillance techniques, like those employed by the National Security Agency.

“For Internet users, this is a huge deal,” said Jeremy Gillula, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Before, the NSA was able to easily gather up tons and tons of email.” But, with Yahoo’s planned encryption service, “the NSA can’t read and analyze everyone’s emails without discernment,” Gillula said.

Yahoo will base its encryption on what’s known as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption, which relies on every user having both a public and private encryption key. The public encryption key, to which any other email user will have access, encrypts plain email text into a complicated code. Then a user’s private code decrypts the code back into plain text when it arrives in their inbox. Each of the keys act almost like x and y variables in an equation: even though you know the public key x, you won’t be able to break the equation, because you still need the private key y. Essentially, the only people who can read your emails become you and the person to whom you’re sending them.

The tech titans’ steps towards encryption means that email users can be confident the only people reading their emails are the intended recipients. But for major tech companies, it also means regaining customers’ trust — particularly abroad, where intense scrutiny over American companies’ vulnerability to National Security Agency snooping could lead firms like Oracle, IBM and Hewlett-Packard to lose billions of dollars in contracts.

There are holes in the big technology companies’ encryption plans, however. Encryption doesn’t protect subject lines, or the data about who sends and receives messages, the Wall Street Journal reports. That leaves your email about as vulnerable as your phone records under the NSA’s mass collection of calling metadata—most of the content of your messages is safe, but who you called is not.

On top of that, the NSA is working on ways to circumvent different kinds of encryption used to protect emails and financial transactions, according to documents that Snowden leaked last year. U.S. and British intelligence agencies have already cracked some of the online encryption methods hundreds of millions of people use to protect their data, the Guardian and others reported last year. And the NSA is quietly working on a super powerful quantum computer intended to break encryption codes.

However, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Gillula, Yahoo is likely to be clever about what kind of encryption it uses, and PGP encryption is still thought to prevent mass sweeps of large volumes of email — even if the NSA can already crack PGP encryption, as some commentators believe, using it will almost certainly slow the agency down, while protecting emails from lesser-equipped would-be snoopers.

“Now the NSA has to think about what they want to collect, as opposed to searching through everyone’s email and doing it in a mass way,” said Gillula.

Yahoo still has to figure out the details of its planned encryption program. Will it store the private keys on its own servers, making them vulnerable to internal theft and sweeping government warrants? Or will it allow each email user to store the private keys locally, adding a level of inconvenience for users? Whatever Yahoo decides to do, its announcement is a major step forward for Internet privacy, and likely unwelcome news for the intelligence community.

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