Worried About Getting Duped by Fake Photos? Try This Browser Plug-In

iStock
iStock

It’s easier than ever to get fooled online, especially by photos. Sophisticated editing can make doctored images look like legitimate photojournalism, and a surprising number of the viral images that show up in our social media feeds are at best misleadingly taken out of context, and at worst, completely doctored. But if you’re not a Photoshop expert, you may not be able to tell. That’s where SurfSafe comes in. The new browser extension helps flag fake or misleading images as you surf the web, as Wired reports.

Available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browsers, SurfSafe allows users to cross-reference where photos have shown up before online. It compares images with similar photos from news organizations, fact-checking sites, and reports from its users to determine whether you should trust what you’re seeing.

It flags images as either “safe,” “warning,” or “unsafe” depending on whether there are other versions of the photo out there that show a substantially different image and whether it’s been the subject of any controversy. When you click on the magnifying glass in the right-hand corner of an image, a window will appear in the right-hand corner of your tab aggregating instances where that image or something similar has shown up elsewhere on the web.

Two side-by-side images of SurfSafe's warning alert
Screenshot, SurfSafe

When you enable SurfSafe, you can choose to mark a number of sources as “safe,” including TV news networks like ABC and CBS, wire services like Reuters, papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and websites like Slate and Ars Technica. Wired reports that the extension also checks more than 100 other sites, including dedicated fact-checking sites like Snopes.

But some of the sources you’re allowed to mark as “safe” aren’t entirely reputable themselves. The list includes sites that have a well-known reputation for being unreliable, like The Daily Mail—whose standards for factual accuracy are so low that Wikipedia no longer allows it as a source. Presumably, if an image is cross-checked against 100 other sites as well, the extension will be able to flag a misleading photo, but it still seems like an odd choice for a fact-checking plug-in regardless.

SurfSafe 'Report an Image' window
Screenshot, SurfSafe

The browser extension just launched, so the developers may still be working some kinks out. During my trial run, the extension sometimes lagged and failed to finish analyzing particular images. Other times it incorrectly reported that an image had not been spotted on any other site, though a reverse-image search on Google turned up plenty of hits for the same photo.

Eventually, the more people who use SurfSafe, the bigger its database of verified and flagged images will grow, in theory making its results more and more accurate. Even with its shortcomings, unless you dedicate yourself to becoming an eagle-eyed Photoshop expert and news junkie, it’s probably your best chance at navigating the often-murky world of viral images without falling for a hoax.

[h/t Wired]

YouTube Is Now Streaming Free Movies—as Long as You'll Sit Through Some Ads

iStock.com/hocus-focus
iStock.com/hocus-focus

If Netflix doesn’t have that movie you’ve been wanting to watch, try searching YouTube instead. The popular video platform is now streaming feature-length movies for free, but you’ll have to endure ads “at regular intervals,” The Verge reports.

The selection is limited to just 100 films for now, but YouTube plans to expand its offerings at a later date. They’re mostly older action films and rom-coms, but there are some crowd-pleasers on offer, including the first five Rocky movies, The Terminator, a few Pink Panther films, and Legally Blonde.

You can find these gratis selections in YouTube’s “Free to Watch” category, which was quietly rolled out last month. It falls under the Movies & Shows section, which was previously reserved for renting and buying movies.

"We saw this opportunity based on user demand, beyond just offering paid movies,” Rohit Dhawan, YouTube's director of product management, told AdAge. It’s also a good opportunity for advertisers, he added. This could pave the way for companies to start sponsoring movies, resulting in exclusive screenings for YouTube viewers.

According to Gizmodo, YouTube's ability to offer free movies stems from its already-existing partnerships with major Hollywood studios. And YouTube isn’t the only company trying to become a bigger player in the streaming market. Nickelodeon launched its NickSplat channel earlier this year, and Disney plans to release its Disney+ service in 2019.

Meanwhile, Amazon's Prime Video has grown to become a worthy rival of Netflix. As of September, it had the largest movie library of all the major streaming platforms, with more than 10,700 films in its collection.

[h/t Gizmodo]

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

There was a surprise waiting for Canadian buyers of The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979, a greatest hits collection by the musician that was released in the summer of 1998. Inside the package was a notice announcing the arrival of BowieNet, a major undertaking spearheaded by the legendary musician that promised a unique portal to the internet. For $19.95 a month, users could access BowieNet in the same way that they logged on to America Online, signing on via a dial-up connection to gain access to the web, email, and a variety of perks for devoted Bowie fans.

The news was a little premature. The Canadian version of the album had been released too early, and BowieNet wasn’t yet up and running when fans first read the news. But by September 1 of that year, Bowie had launched a pioneering effort in the intersection between music, the internet, and fandom. In many ways, BowieNet anticipated the concept of social networking five years before MySpace debuted and six years before Facebook came into existence. It was a fitting accomplishment for an artist who spent his entire career looking for revolutionary ways to share his work.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

Bowie, who first rose to fame during the 1970s glam rock era, had long been fascinated by the promise of digital connectivity. He was reportedly using email as early as 1993. In 1994, he released a CD-ROM of his single, “Jump, They Say,” that allowed users to edit their own music video for the song. In 1996, he released one of the first digital singles, "Telling Lies," and sold 375,000 downloads in just two months. In 1997, Bowie presented a “cybercast” of a Boston concert, which ultimately proved to be too ambitious for the technology of the era (viewers of the live stream were confronted with error messages and frozen feeds).

Clearly excited by the unexplored possibilities these cutting-edge efforts offered, Bowie decided to stake out more digital real estate right around the same time he released "Telling Lies." In 1996, two internet marketers named Robert Goodale and Ron Roy approached Bowie with the idea of building an online fan club that would double as an internet service provider (ISP). In essence, Bowie would be offering online access via a dial-up number using a turnkey web design system from a company called Concentric Network Corporation. The site was developed by Nettmedia, which had worked on web content for the women-centric Lilith Fair music festival that had caught Bowie’s attention.

While users would be free to access any part of the internet, their default landing page would be DavidBowie.com, a place to access exclusive Bowie photos and videos, as well as a unique @davidbowie.com email address and 5 MB of storage space so that they could create their own content. If they wanted to remain with their current internet service provider, they’d pay $5.95 a month for membership.

Bowie liked the idea and became the first investor in UltraStar, Goodale and Roy’s company. More than a figurehead, Bowie actively helped to conceive of BowieNet as having a unique identity. Whereas America Online was a little sterile, Bowie’s aesthetic was more experimental. There were 3D-rendered environments and Flash animation sequences. The CD-ROM sent to subscribers included a customized Internet Explorer browser and music and video tracks, including encrypted material that could only be unlocked online.

More significantly, Bowie used his branded portal to interact with fans. Posting as “Sailor” on the BowieNet message boards, Bowie regularly logged on to answer questions, debunk news reports, or comment on ongoing conversations. He also hosted online chats in real time. In 2017, Newsweek shared excerpts of one 2000 session:

gates asks: "do you gamble in casinos Dave?"
David Bowie answers: No, I only do cartwheels—and don't call me Dave!

queenjanine asks: "Is there anyone you haven't worked with (either dead or alive) that you wish you could?"
David Bowie answers: I love working with dead people. They're so compliant, they never argue back. And I'm always a better singer than they are. Although they can look very impressive on the packaging.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

In his loose interactions with fans, Bowie and BowieNet anticipated the explosion of social media. It was an area that interested Bowie, as he often spoke of the idea of art being unfinished until an audience provided their reaction.

“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here—the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the gray space in the middle,” Bowie told the BBC in 1999. “That gray space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”

With BowieNet, the artist was helping to facilitate that response, in one instance even soliciting a co-creator relationship. In 1999, Bowie took lyrics from an online songwriting contest to help create “What’s Really Happening,” which he put on an album released that same year. He also planned on having a working webcam that peered into his recording studio (though it’s not quite clear whether he achieved it). Ultimately, it was the advancement of internet technology that led to BowieNet's downfall.

With the dissolution of dial-up, BowieNet went from a high of 100,000 subscribers to becoming largely irrelevant in the early 2000s. In 2006, UltraStar’s assets were sold to Live Nation and BowieNet was quietly shut down—though it would take another six years for Bowie to actually announce that fact, via his Facebook page of all places.

But for the 10 years it lasted, BowieNet was the artist's strange, revolutionary predictor of the growing importance of fandom online.

“At the moment,” Bowie told CNN in 1999, the internet "seems to have no parameters whatsoever. It's chaos out there—which I thrive on.”

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