Don't shoot! You're not in a video game anymore

Editors' note: This story has been substantially revised. See the correction note at bottom for details.

If you're a casual gamer or even -- gasp! -- a non-gamer, that security camera in the mall is nothing more than a surveillance device designed to keep people from stealing sugar packets from the food court. If you're an "excessive" gamer, however, that very same camera is the eye of the evil overlord and it must be avoided at all costs.

That, at least, is what's implied by the findings of a study conducted by Professor Mark Griffiths, … Read more

Watch a wild crow tackle a complex eight-step puzzle

We love crows. Crows are amazingly smart, smarter than all other birds and even most other animals. If you think that's an exaggeration, it's not. Crows use tools, and even save good ones for future use. They know how to use their environments, such as human car traffic, to help get food. They recognize human faces across generations, remembering humans who have done them either harm or good and reacting accordingly. And they are the only bird to have passed the mirror recognition test.

Apparently, they're also really clever at solving complex problems.… Read more

Mozilla proposes Web tech for sharing personal interests

Mozilla has tangled with advertisers, for example making it harder for Web sites to use tracking files called cookies and supporting do-not-track effort to curtail online behavior tracking. But today, it announced an effort that could make advertisers happier.

The nonprofit organization announced an interface that Web sites could use to slurp up information about a user's interests. The idea is to let Web sites customize content and ads according to a user's behavior, but to keep the user in control over what gets shared rather than rely on today's online behavior tracking methods.

The Interests API … Read more

How lasers can switch off cocaine addiction

Researchers who shined a laser light in a certain region of the brain -- stimulating the area associated with decision-making and impulse control -- were able to zap what they call "cocaine seeking" behaviors in addicts.

And while their work was on rats, their hope is that a similar technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS, currently used to improve symptoms of depression) will work on humans as well.… Read more

Biofeedback video game helps kids control anger

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital had the bright idea that, since kids with anger-control problems tend to resist psychotherapy but enjoy video games, the researchers should develop a game that sneakily helps kids practice emotion-control skills -- and in the process perhaps reduces the need for medication.

The game, called RAGE Control (short for Regulate and Gain Emotional Control), employs a finger heart rate monitor; users with elevated heart rates actually lose the ability to shoot enemy spaceships. Researchers say the idea is to teach kids to better control their emotional responses -- and specifically to reduce outbursts of … Read more

Instacart aims to be the Amazon Prime of grocery delivery

In cities like San Francisco, shoppers have a number of ways to order groceries online for home delivery. But one startup there thinks that by mimicking Amazon's Prime service and selling subscriptions for unlimited free delivery, it can change customers' behavior and generate a great deal more orders.

Instacart, a current Y Combinator company that came out of stealth mode earlier this month, has been letting users in an invite-only beta buy groceries with quick delivery through its iPhone app for some time. One-hour delivery costs $10, while three-hour delivery runs $4.

Now, CNET has learned, the company has … Read more

Behavioral data tracking rising dramatically (Q&A)

Web sites are increasingly targeting ads at visitors based on behavioral data collected via cookies and other tracking techniques behind the scenes. This riles privacy advocates and many consumers, but there's no question it will become even more widespread.

Since November 2010, behavioral tracking has increased 400 percent, according to a new study from Krux, a firm that helps Web sites manage customer data. The average visit to a Web site in December triggered 56 instances of data collection, up from 10 instances in Nov. 2010, the company found after crawling pages on the 50 most-visited sites measured by … Read more

Airtime curtails privacy for the sake of safety

Now that the oohs and ahhs of Airtime's launch this week have settled, it's time to look at the nitty gritty of this new browser-based video chat service. One of the company's policies involve user privacy.

The way Airtime works is by using Facebook as its log-in platform. At its basic level, Airtime allows simple video chat with users' Facebook friends, but take it up a notch and it lets people chat with strangers that have common interests.

So, as a way to keep its users safe, the service takes random secret photos of video conversations between … Read more

The case for getting grandma to play World of Warcraft

The online video game World of Warcraft is in the news again, this time for its potential to help boost certain cognitive skills--specifically spatial ability and focused attention--in older adults.

Researchers at North Carolina State University's Gains Through Gaming Lab tested the cognitive functions of 39 60- to 77-year-olds and then broke the study's participants into an experimental group, which played the MMORPG for 14 hours over a two-week period, and a control group, which did not play WoW at all.

It turns out that the adults who played WoW for two weeks improved their baseline scores, with … Read more

Chrome to support Do Not Track privacy feature

Google has agreed to build support for Do Not Track into Chrome so its Web browser can tell Web sites when people don't want advertisers scrutinizing their behavior.

The Do Not Track technology modifies communications between browsers and servers so people can signal that they don't want their browsing behavior to become the basis for ad targeting.

Mozilla developed Do Not Track and built it into its Firefox Web browser. Microsoft followed suit not long after with Internet Explorer, Apple has enabled it as an option for developers in Safari 5.1, and Opera is building it into the forthcoming Opera 12. … Read more