Saturday, August 11, 2012

Apparently This Matters: Twitter beauty party

Editor's note: Each week in "Apparently This Matters," CNN's Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media.

(CNN) -- There was a pretty epic party on Wednesday night. You probably weren't there.

But don't take it personally. We can't all be awesome. Naturally, of course, I was present, showing up casually late because it's what awesome people do at epic parties. That, and defile the mashed potatoes.

Granted, this particular epic party was held on Twitter. And it was hosted by CVS. And, technically, everybody was invited.

Thus, I'm suddenly now beginning to question my awesomeness.

Me: "Am I awesome?"

Me: "Not really."

Me: "I appreciate your honesty."

Me: "Whatever, nerd."

OK, so maybe it's not Ibiza, but there was a popular online party hosted by the CVS Beauty Club -- yes, that exists -- to promote the pharmacy's cosmetic offerings via social media. And for a good hour or so during the big digital soiree, the hashtag was a leading trend.

Hurrah! Victory for the marketing department! Treat yourself to some hooker makeup.

Not surprisingly, however, a random dude eventually entered the conversation and was instantly confused.

@TheClassyMan wrote: "This is a joke right?"

Not a joke. CVS really managed to get people talking about and participating in their virtual Twitter party, which is pretty amazing. But how exactly does something like this work?

Basically, I guess a Twitter party is just like any other party. People talk. Strangers mingle. Except there's no guacamole, and if you happen to do a keg stand, it's not because everybody else was doing one. It's because you're a degenerate alcoholic.

"Wooooo! Thirty seconds! I rule! And now I have to fold the laundry ... and do other stuff because I'm home alone with my computer ... drinking ... from a keg. Woooooo."

Personally speaking, the most appealing aspect of a digital Twitter party is that I only have 140 characters to completely embarrass myself. Which, I suppose, is quite more than enough.

"Hi. I'm Jarrett. I use Beano."

See? Minimal damage.

But let's get back to this beauty club.

Essentially, anyone can join for free to get periodic discounts and rewards on various CVS cosmetics. The online information wasn't exactly clear, though, as to whether Beano qualifies. Its inclusion, however, more or less determines my interest in signing up.


I'm all about discounts and Twitter parties and Beano and maybe even a touch of mascara when I'm feeling pretty, but I'm a little uncomfortable that my beloved CVS actually calls this a "club." Clubs have to have standards, and I simply can't appreciate any exclusive organization that doesn't charge excessive dues and/or base one's membership on blatant superficiality.

That's why I joined a fraternity.

Look, I know I didn't offer the American University chapter of Delta Chi anything in terms of status, and I'm pretty sure I lowered their overall combined GPA by at least a full point, but I was more than willing to pay the yearly fees. And as a bonus, I could pretty easily be talked into running around the party wearing nothing but a strategically placed sock.

(Had there been cell phone cameras in the late 90s, I'd currently be living in Mongolia.)

At the CVS Beauty Club, there are no initiation fees. No dues. And technically, I suppose, even Nick Nolte could join. It's that easy.

But for those of us who don't use cosmetics or, at the very least, aren't planning on going to the Gathering of the Juggalos, there's probably no real need to apply. We're fine the way we are. Perfect fives.

Unless, of course, you really just want to experiment with ointments and colors and masks. In which case, by all means join the CVS Beauty Club and start saving. Hell, go nuts!

Treat yourself to some hooker makeup.

FTC finalizes privacy settlement with Facebook

NEW YORK (AP) â€" The Federal Trade Commission voted Friday to finalize its settlement with Facebook, resolving charges that the social network exposed details about users' lives without getting the required legal consent.

Facebook Inc. didn't admit wrongdoing, but agreed to submit to government audits of its privacy practices every other year for the next two decades. The company also committed to getting explicit approval from users before changing the types of content it makes public.

The settlement, announced in November, is similar to agreements the FTC reached separately with Google Inc. and Myspace.

The FTC approved the settlement Friday after a public comment period. It came a day after the FTC fined Google $22.5 million to resolve allegations that Google didn't comply with the earlier settlement.

Both Facebook and Google have vast amounts of data on their users â€" Facebook through the things people share on the site, and Google through the searches and other things people do. Such information is valuable because it can be used to improve the lucrative targeted advertising pitches that both companies aim at users.

Over the years, Facebook has been pushing users to voluntary share more about themselves. That ultimately encourages users and their friends to spend more time on the site, which in turn allows Facebook to sell more ads. Although Facebook boasts that it gives users a variety of software settings so they can decide which photos, links and updates to share with whom, the company changes those options on a regular basis.

Much of the FTC's complaint against Facebook centers on a series of changes that the company made to its privacy controls in late 2009. The revisions automatically shared information and pictures about Facebook users, even if they previously programmed their privacy settings to shield the content. Among other things, people's profile pictures, lists of online friends and political views were suddenly available for the world to see, the FTC alleged.

The complaint also charges that Facebook shared its users' personal information with third-party advertisers from September 2008 through May 2010 despite several public assurances from company officials that it wasn't passing the data along for marketing purposes.

Facebook believes that happened only in limited instances, generally when users clicked on ads that appeared on their personal profile pages. Most of Facebook's users click on ads when they are on their "Wall" â€" a section that highlights their friends' posts â€" or while visiting someone else's profile page.

Under the settlement, Facebook must get explicit consent â€" a process known as "opting in" â€" before making changes that override existing privacy preferences. The company also may not make misrepresentations about the privacy or security of users' personal information â€" a broad clause that led to Google's fine on Thursday.

Violations will be subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per day for each infringement.

The FTC approved the settlement 3-1, with one commissioner not participating. Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissented, as he did with the Google deal on Thursday, partly because it didn't require an admission of wrongdoing. He also worried the settlement was too vague on whether it applied to Facebook apps written by outside parties. The three commissioners who approved the deal believe it covers apps.

Facebook had no comment beyond a statement that it is pleased the settlement received final approval.

Facebook's stock gained 52 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $21.53 in midday trading Friday. The company, based in Menlo Park, Calif., began trading publicly in mid-May, after the settlement with the FTC was reached.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Be careful when diagnosing your ailments online

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at

(CNN) -- When I was a child, a pale specter used to call our house most evenings, eager to chat with my doctor father about her myriad medical concerns.

We called her the "White Bread Lady," a moniker she earned for one particularly inane call in which she panicked to my father after consuming white bread.

She wasn't breaking out in hives or having any adverse effects to the bread. No, she was just concerned that some future illness could befall her given that one particular dietary decision.

Although we all laughed at the time, it was with a bit of shifty-eyed shame. Because most of us (including if not particularly the illustrious Ehrlich family) have lurking within us our very own "White Bread Lady," ready to convince us that each cough, sniffle and less-than-nutritious meal might be a detriment to our health.

And, naturally, that White Bread Lady looms even larger when we can type our worries into a search bar and unlock a bevy of potentially distressing information. Yup, so quoth Google, we all have cancer.

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, 80% of Internet users have looked up health information online. While that practice can be beneficial in some respects, the abundance of (variably valid) information online can turn us into e-hypochondriacs. (Or, worse, can lead us to neglect getting the care we need.)

Read on for five mistakes -- courtesy of a selection of health-care professionals -- that people make when diagnosing themselves online.

Searching blind

Your eye is twitching like an overly caffeinated college student sitting behind a pretty girl in lecture hall, twirling his pencil and hoping to catch a whiff of her lovely shining hair.

You type "eye twitch" into Google and come up with a really rad website that explains that this newfound spasm is actually an indication that your third eye is fixing to open, revealing to you wonders untold. You are the chosen one. Too bad that this trove of "medical information" is actually some dude's fan-fiction site.

Sure, the above is an extreme example, but, as Dr. Kevin Pho of pointed out, "There's a lot of bad information on the Web and information that can be dangerous." Especially if you're not considering who put up that information in the first place.

Pho urges users to favor Web addresses ending in .org and .edu when looking for reputable health-care info, and to check who is funding the collection of that information. "There's so much information from organizations trying to sell products or push their agenda on the Web," he said.

He suggests turning to sites like Mayo Clinic as well as troves of information curated by doctors (like Pho's own website) when trolling the Web for info. And, of course, if a site mentions trolls and third eyes, one should definitely press on.

Flailing in forums

If there's one thing people like to do online, it's talk about their problems -- especially mundane things like coughs and headaches and their babies' various and sundry discharges. And, it seems, we're pretty interested in reading about the health issues of others, too.

According to that Pew study, 23% of social-network users have followed a friend's health experiences online, and 34% of Internet users have read about someone else's medical issues on newsgroups, websites or blogs.

That's all well and good; sharing experiences with others is enriching! Unless the people you're sharing with are idiots.

Case in point: Here's a Yahoo Answers thread in which folks are discussing whether you can make a pregnancy test out of bleach and Pine-Sol. (Spoiler alert: You can't.)

"You can easily fall into that rabbit hole and find some forum that really isn't relevant but maybe sounds kind of close," warned Craig Monsen, co-founder of symptom-checker app SymCat and fourth-year medical student at Johns Hopkins University.

On the other hand, "sometimes you'll stumble on exactly the right forum where someone has your same exact problem, and their solution does help."

"Health-care forums are definitely another tool that individuals can use in order to crowdsource a diagnosis based on their symptoms," added Dr. Natasha Burgert of KC Kids Doc. "I think that these can be a really powerful tool not only for discussing potential diagnosis or symptom relief but also finding a forum of individuals in which you can discuss emotional and psychological parts of an illness and develop a wonderful online support community."

The trick is to be wary about the issues being discussed in forums and how germane they are to you. And, you know, if people start talking about homemade remedies fashioned from bleach, maybe click off and see a doc.

Getting emotional

You know that game "6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon"? There should seriously be a version of that called "6 Degrees of Cancer" -- as in, when looking up your symptoms online, how long does it take to deduce that you have a life-threatening disease instead of, say, a simple cold?

According to Burgert, the root of this whole "worst-case scenario" thing is getting too emotional.

"For most intents and purposes, when you're looking for online health information, it's about yourself or a family member," she said. "When you're looking through that lens, it's very hard to keep emotional distance. So you can read about a diagnosis that either makes you very scared or calms your fears -- and that's the path you'll continue down, whether it's correct or not."

Burgert suggested using online symptom checkers simply to "understand possible diagnoses, find some initial steps for relieving the symptoms and determine if this is something that needs further evaluation or that can be managed at home."

SymCat and Mayo Clinic's symptom checker let you type in what you're experiencing and unearth a spectrum of diagnoses and suggestions for when to seek a doctor's aid. Your doctor's website might also have such a tool.

Voila, you just increased your separation from cancer by at least a couple of degrees.

Keeping mum around MDs

"I think, traditionally, many physicians are a little apprehensive when that stereotypical patient comes to their office with big stacks of printouts from the Internet," Pho said. "But I think more and more doctors are accepting it. Personally, I think that transparency of information is helpful in a way."

Translation: Help your doctor help you. If you're worried about a particular medical situation and did some research to help narrow down what's ailing you, share that info with your physician.

"I really appreciate when patients bring in information that they found online, because it allows me to guide my instruction and plan based on their true concerns," Burgert said. "People get scared when they get sick and hurt, and they want to use multiple sources of information to help themselves. The Internet adds to that physician's expertise in order to do that."

Pho suggests using tracking apps (Bloodnote and Tap & Track are a few examples) to keep tabs on blood pressure, weight, heart rate and other areas that are of particular concern to you and your MD.

"These apps and sites give patients so much data about themselves that they never had before," he said.

And a log is useful to your doctor, who can scan for abnormalities and patterns that you may have missed.

Remember, though, knowing how to use the Internet doesn't make you a doctor. Google doesn't count as a second opinion. If you're unhappy with your doc's diagnosis, go get one the traditional way.

Putting off the inevitable

If your ailment isn't going away, all the symptom-checking and Mayo Clinic-ing in the world isn't going to help you.

Make a doctor's appointment. Like, right now.

Sites like ZocDoc make it super easy (and free; doctors pay to be listed) to set up an appointment ASAP, so no whining that you'll have to wait two weeks to see a doc and maybe by then "it" will have gone away.

Unless, of course, "it" is that white bread you just ate. In that case, please stop calling my dad.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"StarCraft" and "Warcraft" maker's take on gaming addiction

(CNN) -- Blizzard Entertainment, maker of "World of Warcraft" and "StarCraft II," has been blamed by some for creating games that are so addictive people can't turn away.

On a recent trip to South Korea, CNN met with people who have been in treatment centers for gaming addiction who said they played some of the company's most popular games at the exclusion of other activities -- foregoing sleeping and eating to keep playing.

In extreme cases, people in South Korea have died after playing online games for days on end without stopping for rest, according to news reports.

Psychologists disagree about the merits of gaming and Internet addiction; the United States has called for more study of the topic and does not currently list Internet addiction as an official disorder on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Blizzard Entertainment issued the following statement to CNN concerning allegations that its games promote addictive behavior. Among the highlights: The company says it's games can be enjoyed "with minimal time commitments," and it says "it's never our intent for our players to play our games to the exclusion of other activities."

Take a look at the full statement and let us know what you think in the comments:

"Games are meant to be a source of entertainment, and as with movies, books, sports, and music, we recognize that different people participate for different durations. With any form of entertainment, we feel it's important to exercise personal responsibility and be mindful of outside obligations. It's never our intent for our players to play our games to the exclusion of other activities. We also feel that a person's day-to-day life should take precedence over any form of entertainment and that it's ultimately up to the individual game player or his or her parent or guardian to determine how long he or she should spend playing any game. It's important to note that players are able to jump into our games and accomplish appreciable and fulfilling goals, such as competing in matches, completing quests or matches, purchasing or selling equipment for their characters, hunting monsters, and socializing with friends, in a short amount of time, making our games enjoyable with minimal time commitments.

"Our ultimate goal as a game company has always been to make the best games that we can possibly make. With games like 'World of Warcraft' and 'StarCraft II,' we feel we've created rewarding experiences that players worldwide are able to enjoy at their own leisure."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

High-tech kit speeds athletes into new era

(CNN) -- From hydrodynamic swimwear in the pool to lightweight carbon-fiber bicycles slicing through the air at the velodrome, the Olympic Games is once again shining a spotlight not only on the athletes, but also their kit.

The technology propelling athletes to glory in the future will be even more refined, taking bespoke equipment to another level says Mike Caine, professor of sports technology and innovation at the UK's Loughborough University.

"The sports industry talks a lot about customization at the moment. Typically, they mean you can pick your color and put your name on the shoe," Caine said.

"What I'm talking about is the bend and stiffness of a sole plate which can be optimized to give the most power for an individual athlete," he said.

Measuring the power, geometry and biomechanics of individual feet is enabling the creation of "tuned" midsoles in athletics shoes, says Caine, which can correct gait abnormalities or soft-tissue inefficiencies.

The soles are built using an additive manufacturing (also known as 3-D printing) system invented and patented at the university. Caine is confident it can deliver new gains on the track.

See also: 3-D printing: the shape of things to come

"If you compare elite male runners with elite females they are very, very different. But at the moment the footwear is ostensibly identical," he said.

This type of custom-built kit will become the norm for lots of elite sportsmen, he thinks, and will eventually filter down to the high street.

The research is one of several pioneering efforts being led by Loughborough's Sports Technology Institute, which works with public and private partners to drive innovation in sport's equipment and training.

Caine and colleagues are currently pioneering new tracking devices for swimmers, which employ body-mounted gyroscopes and accelerometers in tandem with cameras and sensors around the pool to monitor body position, acceleration, speed and power.

"(The data) removes ambiguity for an experienced coach. If you can provide quantified time and speed data, you reinforce learning behaviors," he said.

It works best with the technical sports like sailing and cycling and will only get more accurate as technology presses ahead, Caine says.

"If you speak to (aerodynamic and hydrodynamics) experts they say there is a lot more that can be done because our computational power will be at a level where we can understand the nuances of small changes," he said.

Rapid advances in equipment have encouraged some sporting bodies to reign in technology's influence.

In 1996, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) published the Lugano Charter which drew up narrow guidelines on bicycle design, and in 2009 the swimming world governing body FINA outlawed Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuit (launched in 2008) after world records were routinely broken.

Sport is "heading towards a crossroads," according to the report "Sports Engineering: An Unfair Advantage?" published by the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers in July.

Regulators now face a "delicate task ... as sports technology becomes ever more powerful. The legal wrangling over Oscar Pistorius' move from the Paralympics to the Olympics is a sign of things to come," say the authors.

The South African double-amputee's appearance at London 2012 poses interesting philosophical questions, says Rayvon Fouche, associate professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and author of the forthcoming book "Gamechanger: Technology and Science in Sport."

"It really pushes us to think deeply about what sort of athletic competition we want to see. How far do we push the technology in a way that also doesn't undermine the authenticity of the sport?" Fouche said.

"There definitely needs to be a larger dialogue about what it means to live in a world where technology surrounds us at every moment."

Sport, he says, has always been played using emerging technologies with the goal being to find the largest legal advantage you can.

"In the last 30-40 years, technology is clearly the effective place to look for the substantial gains."

A wider conversation involving governing bodies, athletes, sports manufacturers and fans may help us define what sport is, Fouche says.

Caine agrees.

"Well-informed governing bodies promote incremental changes which mirror the technological advances in wider society. The key is to do it in concert with athletes and manufacturers," he said.

"What you don't want, in my view, is a disruptive technology that changes the essence of the sport and/or makes it completely unfair. What we like is human endeavour, which is the primary construct on which competitive sport is based."