Smartphone Addiction Creates Brain Imbalance, Study Suggests

My advice is to control the phone instead of letting it control you. As with many other parts of life, for some that will be much easier said than done.

Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 46 percent of Americans say they could not live without their smartphones. While this sentiment is clearly hyperbole, more and more people are becoming increasingly dependent on smartphones and other portable electronic devices for news, information, games, and even the occasional phone call.

Along with a growing concern that young people, in particular, may be spending too much time staring into their phones instead of interacting with others, come questions as to the immediate effects on the brain and the possible long-term consequences of such habits.

Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain unique insight into the brains of smartphone- and internet-addicted teenagers. MRS is a type of MRI that measures the brain’s chemical composition.

The study involved 19 young people (mean age 15.5, 9 males) diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 gender- and age-matched healthy controls. Twelve of the addicted youth received nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, modified from a cognitive therapy program for gaming addiction, as part of the study.

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Researchers used standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests to measure the severity of internet addiction. Questions focused on the extent to which internet and smartphone use affects daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.

The researchers performed MRS exams on the addicted youth prior to and following behavioral therapy and a single MRS study on the control patients to measure levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows down brain signals, and glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become more electrically excited. Previous studies have found GABA to be involved in vision and motor control and the regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety.

The results of the MRS revealed that, compared to the healthy controls, the ratio of GABA to Glx was significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of smartphone- and internet-addicted youth prior to therapy.

Dr. Seo said the ratios of GABA to creatine and GABA to glutamate were significantly correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, depression and anxiety.

Having too much GABA can result in a number of side effects, including drowsiness and anxiety.

More study is needed to understand the clinical implications of the findings, but Dr. Seo believes that increased GABA in the anterior cingulate gyrus in internet and smartphone addiction may be related to the functional loss of integration and regulation of processing in the cognitive and emotional neural network.

The good news is GABA to Glx ratios in the addicted youth significantly decreased or normalized after cognitive behavioral therapy.

“The increased GABA levels and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to our understanding the pathophysiology of and treatment for addictions,” Dr. Seo said.

U.S. FDA Approves Digital Pill That Tracks if Consumers Have Taken It

It could be good or bad — depending on how it’s used. Technology isn’t usually intrinsically positive or negative. Rather, the application of it is what drives the costs and benefits.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first digital pill for the US which tracks if patients have taken their medication. The pill called Abilify MyCite, is fitted with a tiny ingestible sensor that communicates with a patch worn by the patient — the patch then transmits medication data to a smartphone app which the patient can voluntarily upload to a database for their doctor and other authorized persons to see. Abilify is a drug that treats schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and is an add-on treatment for depression.

The Abilify MyCite features a sensor the size of a grain of sand made of silicon, copper, and magnesium. An electrical signal is activated when the sensor comes into contact with stomach acid — the sensor then passes through the body naturally. A patch the patient wears on their left rib cage receives the signal several minutes after the pill is ingested. The patch then sends data like the time the pill was taken and the dosage to a smartphone app over Bluetooth. The patch also records activity levels, sleeping patterns, steps taken, activity, and heart rate, and must be replaced every seven days. The patient’s doctor and up to four other people chosen by the patient, including family members, can access the information. The patient can revoke access at any time.

The pill comes after years of research and is a venture between Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka and digital medicine service Proteus Digital Health, which makes the sensor. The pill is one way to address the prevalent problem of patients not taking their medication correctly, with the IMS Institute estimating that the improper and unnecessary use of medicine cost the US healthcare sector over $200 billion in 2012. The approval also opens the door for pills that are used for other conditions beyond mental health to be digitized.

Experts though, have expressed concerns over what the pill might mean for privacy. Some are worried that tracking pills will be a step towards punishing patients who don’t comply. Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School told The New York Times the digital pill “has the potential to improve public health. [But] if used improperly, it could foster more mistrust instead of trust.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FDA is anticipating a potential raft of approval requests for other digital pills. A spokesperson told the publication the FDA is planning to hire more staff with “deep understanding” of software development in relation to medical devices, and engage with entrepreneurs on new guidelines.

Enacting a Tax on Companies Using Valuable Personal Information

Societies should first tax what they dislike most, and the exploitation of personal user information by corporations is definitely an aspect of society to be disliked.

Our data is valuable. Each year, it generates hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of economic activity, mostly between and within corporations — all on the back of information about each of us.

It’s this transaction — between you, the user, giving up details of yourself to a company in exchange for a product like a photo app or email, or a whole ecosystem like Facebook — that’s worth by some estimates $1,000 per person per year, a number that is quickly rising.

The value of our personal data is primarily locked up in the revenues of large corporations. Some, like data brokerages, exist solely to buy and sell sets of that data.

Why should companies be the major, and often the only, beneficiaries of this largess? They shouldn’t. Those financial benefits need to be shared, and the best way to do it is to impose a small tax on this revenue and use the proceeds to build a better, more equitable internet and society that benefit us all.

The data tax could be a minor cost, less than 1 percent of the revenue companies earn from selling our personal data, spread out over an entire industry. Individually, no company’s bottom line would substantially suffer; collectively, the tax would pull money back to the public, from an industry profiting from material and labor that is, at its very core, our own.

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Our data is ours, but it also is not ours. We trade it away for so much of our experience on the internet. Money from a data tax could begin to counter this trade imbalance.

The money should go toward improving privacy of our information on the internet, countering identity theft, improving connectivity and internet literacy, all causes that would help create a more equitable internet for all.

Facebook Asks Australian Users for Nude Photos to “Combat Revenge Porn”

I see this effort by Facebook as doing much more harm than good, and it provides me with another justified reason for being against Facebook and having never used it personally. This Facebook effort doesn’t stop revenge porn in general, as other sites besides Facebook could be used against victims to post revenge porn.

Facebook is asking users to send the company their nude photos in an effort to tackle revenge porn, in an attempt to give some control back to victims of this type of abuse.

Individuals who have shared intimate, nude or sexual images with partners and are worried that the partner (or ex-partner) might distribute them without their consent can use Messenger to send the images to be “hashed”. This means that the company converts the image into a unique digital fingerprint that can be used to identify and block any attempts to re-upload that same image.

Facebook is piloting the technology in Australia in partnership with a government agency headed up by the e-safety commissioner, Julia Inman Grant, who told ABC it would allow victims of “image-based abuse” to take action before pictures were posted to Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.

Crucially terrible is that Facebook employees will have to review uncensored nude photos as part of the process. That means that another avenue of potential abuse is opened up against victims.

According to a Facebook spokesperson, Facebook workers will have to review full, uncensored versions of nude images first, volunteered by the user, to determine if malicious posts by other users qualify as revenge porn.

Treatment Against Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Can be Increased Through Nanoparticles

The effectiveness of antibiotic treatments for antibiotic-resistant superbugs can be increased through nanoparticles activated by light, which are also known as quantum dots. This research represents an important development in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Multi-drug resistant pathogens, which evolve their defenses faster than new antibiotic treatments can be developed to treat them, cost the United States an estimated $20 billion in direct healthcare costs and an additional $35 billion in lost productivity in 2013.

CU Boulder researchers, however, were able to re-potentiate existing antibiotics for certain clinical isolate infections by introducing nano-engineered quantum dots, which can be deployed selectively and activated or de-activated using specific wavelengths of light.

Rather than attacking the infecting bacteria conventionally, the dots release superoxide, a chemical species that interferes with the bacteria’s metabolic and cellular processes, triggering a fight response that makes it more susceptible to the original antibiotic.

“We’ve developed a one-two knockout punch,” said Prashant Nagpal, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE) and the co-lead author of the study. “The bacteria’s natural fight reaction [to the dots] actually leaves it more vulnerable.”

The findings, which were published today in the journal Science Advances, show that the dots reduced the effective antibiotic resistance of the clinical isolate infections by a factor of 1,000 without producing adverse side effects.

“We are thinking more like the bug,” said Anushree Chatterjee, an assistant professor in CHBE and the co-lead author of the study. “This is a novel strategy that plays against the infection’s normal strength and catalyzes the antibiotic instead.”

While other previous antibiotic treatments have proven too indiscriminate in their attack, the quantum dots have the advantage of being able to work selectively on an intracellular level. Salmonella, for example, can grow and reproduce inside host cells. The dots, however, are small enough to slip inside and help clear the infection from within.

“These super-resistant bugs already exist right now, especially in hospitals,” said Nagpal. “It’s just a matter of not contracting them. But they are one mutation away from becoming much more widespread infections.”

Overall, Chatterjee said, the most important advantage of the quantum dot technology is that it offers clinicians an adaptable multifaceted approach to fighting infections that are already straining the limits of current treatments.

“Disease works much faster than we do,” she said. “Medicine needs to evolve as well.”

Going forward, the researchers envision quantum dots as a kind of platform technology that can be scaled and modified to combat a wide range of infections and potentially expand to other therapeutic applications.

3 Billion (Instead of 1 Billion) Yahoo Accounts Were Compromised

Yahoo’s use of the MD5 hash basically means that virtually all of their user passwords were compromised. Considering that Yahoo was also found to be involved in the NSA Prism program, people should have been using better email providers years ago. I’d personally recommend Tutanota, Protonmail, and Mailfence for email services.

Yahoo’s infamous hack — already one of the worst in history — is even worse than previously thought.

All 3 billion user accounts it had in 2013 were affected by the security breach, the company, which Verizon acquired in June, said on Tuesday. Yahoo had previously estimated the hack affected 1 billion accounts.

In its statement, the company said:

“Subsequent to Yahoo’s acquisition by Verizon, and during integration, the company recently obtained new intelligence and now believes, following an investigation with the assistance of outside forensic experts, that all Yahoo user accounts were affected by the August 2013 theft.”

The hacked user information included phone numbers, birth dates, security questions and answers, and “hashed,” or scrambled, passwords, Yahoo said in a list of frequently asked questions on its website. The information did not include “passwords in clear text, payment card data, or bank account information,” the company said.

However, the technique Yahoo used to hash passwords on its site is an outdated one that is widely considered to be easily compromised, so it’s possible that people who had the hashed passwords could unscramble them.

Yahoo said it was sending email notifications to account holders that it didn’t previously determine were affected by the hack.

“Smart” Tattoo Ink Developed

The latest iteration of smart technology is the “smart” … tattoo. It seems as though these have a lot of potential to be abused, particularly through unjust surveillance, but they could also be used to improve general well-being. As is usually the case with technology, it’s the implementation that will determine how positive its results are.

Harvard and MIT researchers have developed smart tattoo ink capable of monitoring health by changing color to tell an athlete if she is dehydrated or a diabetic if his blood sugar rises.

The work, conducted by two postdoctoral fellows at Harvard Medical School and colleagues led by Katia Vega at MIT’s Media Lab, paired biosensitive inks developed at Harvard with traditional tattoo artistry as a way to overcome some of the limitations of current biomedical monitoring devices.

“We were thinking: New technologies, what is the next generation after wearables?” said Ali Yetisen, who is a Tosteson postdoctoral fellow at HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital. “And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin.”

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Jiang and Yetisen said that once the bugs are worked out, the applications for biologically-sensitive ink are fairly broad. Inks, Yetisen said, could be incorporated into long-lasting tattoos for chronic conditions or into temporary designs for shorter-duration monitoring. Ink can even be invisible, Yetisen said, readable under only particular kinds of light. That light could come from something as ubiquitous as a smartphone.

Yetisen has already developed an app that can analyze a picture of a sensor and provide quantitative diagnostic results. While patients are an obvious potential market, Yetisen said the technology could be used in astronauts, for whom continuous health monitoring is desirable.

Jiang said the project’s purpose was to excite artists and scientists alike about the potential for such technology, and to stimulate discussion of ethical issues it might raise, such as people’s willingness to have health information displayed for all to see.

“The purpose of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts,” Jiang said. “These questions of how technology impacts our lives must be considered as carefully as the design of the molecular sensors patients may someday carry embedded in their skin.”