Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.
The tag 'Google' is associated with 4 posts.

The Cambridge Analytica Microcosm in Our Panoptic Macrocosm

Let the Great Unfriending Commence! Specifically, the mass unfriending of Facebook, which would be a well deserved unfriending after the scandalous revelations in a recent series of articles centered around the claims of Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower who helped found the firm and worked there until late 2014 until he and others grew increasingly uncomfortable with the far right goals and questionable actions of the firm. And those questionable actions by Cambridge involve a larger and more scandalous Facebook policy brought forth by a Facbook whistle-blower, Sandy Parakilas: Facebook was handing out exactly the kind of data collected by Cambridge Analytica to all sorts of app developers for years. Beyond that, it appears that Facebook really did have an exceptionally close relationship with Cambridge Analytica’s research partner and was only bothered by its data collection when the media got wind of it. It also looks like Steve Bannon was overseeing this entire process, although he claims to know nothing. Oh, and Palantir appears to have had an informal relationship with Cambridge Analytica this whole time. And this state of affairs is an extension of how the internet has been used from its very conception a half century ago. And that’s all part of why the Great Unfriending of Facebook really is long overdue, along with a lot of other reforms.


FTR #996 Civilization’s Twilight: Update on Technocratic Fascism

Updating our ongoing analysis of what Mr. Emory calls “technocratic fascism,” we examine how existing technologies are neutralizing and/or rendering obsolete foundational elements of our civilization and democratic governmental systems.

We begin our description by referencing a vitally important article by David Golumbia. ” . . . . Such tech­no­cratic beliefs are wide­spread in our world today, espe­cially in the enclaves of dig­i­tal enthu­si­asts, whether or not they are part of the giant corporate-digital leviathan. Hack­ers (‘civic,’ ‘eth­i­cal,’ ‘white’ and ‘black’ hat alike), hack­tivists, Wik­iLeaks fans [and Julian Assange et al–D. E.], Anony­mous ‘mem­bers,’ even Edward Snow­den him­self walk hand-in-hand with Face­book and Google in telling us that coders don’t just have good things to con­tribute to the polit­i­cal world, but that the polit­i­cal world is theirs to do with what they want, and the rest of us should stay out of it: the polit­i­cal world is bro­ken, they appear to think (rightly, at least in part), and the solu­tion to that, they think (wrongly, at least for the most part), is for pro­gram­mers to take polit­i­cal mat­ters into their own hands. . . . [Tor co-creator] Din­gle­dine  asserts that a small group of soft­ware devel­op­ers can assign to them­selves that role, and that mem­bers of demo­c­ra­tic poli­ties have no choice but to accept them hav­ing that role. . . .”

Beginning with a chilling opinion piece in “The New York Times,” we note that technological development threatens to super-charge the Big Lies that drive our world. As anyone who saw the file Star Wars film “Rogue One” knows, the technology required to create a nearly life-like computer-generated videos of a real person is already a reality. Once the province of movie studios and other firms with millions to spend, the technology is now available for download for free.

” . . . . In 2016 Gareth Edwards, the director of the Star Wars film ‘Rogue One,’ was able to create a scene featuring a young Princess Leia by manipulating images of Carrie Fisher as she looked in 1977. Mr. Edwards had the best hardware and software a $200 million Hollywood budget could buy. Less than two years later, images of similar quality can be created with software available for free download on Reddit. That was how a faked video supposedly of the actress Emma Watson in a shower with another woman ended up on the website Celeb Jihad. . . .”

The technology has already rendered obsolete selective editing such as that performed by James O’Keefe: ” . . . . as the novelist William Gibson once said, ‘The street finds its own uses for things.’ So do rogue political actors. The implications for democracy are eye-opening. The conservative political activist James O’Keefe has created a cottage industry manipulating political perceptions by editing footage in misleading ways. In 2018, low-tech editing like Mr. O’Keefe’s is already an anachronism: Imagine what even less scrupulous activists could do with the power to create ‘video’ framing real people for things they’ve never actually done. One harrowing potential eventuality: Fake video and audio may become so convincing that it can’t be distinguished from real recordings, rendering audio and video evidence inadmissible in court. . . .”

After highlighting a story about AI-generated “deepfake” pornography with people’s faces superimposed on others’ bodies in pornographic layouts, we note how robots have altered our political and commercial landscapes, through cyber technology: ” . . . . Robots are getting better, every day, at impersonating humans. When directed by opportunists, malefactors and sometimes even nation-states, they pose a particular threat to democratic societies, which are premised on being open to the people. Robots posing as people have become a menace. . . . In coming years, campaign finance limits will be (and maybe already are) evaded by robot armies posing as ‘small’ donors. And actual voting is another obvious target — perhaps the ultimate target. . . .”

Before the actual replacement of manual labor by robots, devices to technocratically “improve”–read “coercively engineer” workers are patented by Amazon and have been used on workers in some of their facilities. ” . . . . What if your employer made you wear a wristband that tracked your every move, and that even nudged you via vibrations when it judged that you were doing something wrong? What if your supervisor could identify every time you paused to scratch or fidget, and for how long you took a bathroom break? What may sound like dystopian fiction could become a reality for Amazon warehouse workers around the world. The company has won two patents for such a wristband. . . .”

For some U.K Amazon warehouse workers, the future is now: ” . . . . Max Crawford, a former Amazon warehouse worker in Britain, said in a phone interview, ‘After a year working on the floor, I felt like I had become a version of the robots I was working with.’ He described having to process hundreds of items in an hour — a pace so extreme that one day, he said, he fell over from dizziness. ‘There was no time to go to the loo,’ he said, using the British slang for toilet. ‘You had to process the items in seconds and then move on. If you didn’t meet targets, you were fired.’

“He worked back and forth at two Amazon warehouses for more than two years and then quit in 2015 because of health concerns, he said: ‘I got burned out.’ Mr. Crawford agreed that the wristbands might save some time and labor, but he said the tracking was ‘stalkerish’ and feared that workers might be unfairly scrutinized if their hands were found to be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ ‘They want to turn people into machines,’ he said. ‘The robotic technology isn’t up to scratch yet, so until it is, they will use human robots.’ . . . .”

Some tech workers, well placed at R & D pacesetters and giants such as Facebook and Google have done an about-face on the  impact of their earlier efforts and are now struggling against the misuse of the technologies they helped to launch:

” . . . . A group of Silicon Valley technologists who were early employees at Facebook and Google, alarmed over the ill effects of social networks and smartphones, are banding together to challenge the companies they helped build. . . . ‘The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?’ Mr. [Tristan] Harris said. ‘We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.’ . . . . Mr. [RogerMcNamee] said he had joined the Center for Humane Technology because he was horrified by what he had helped enable as an early Facebook investor. ‘Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger,’ he said. ‘And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.’ . . . .”

Transitioning to our next program–updating AI (artificial intelligence) technology as it applies to technocratic fascism–we note that AI machines are being designed to develop other AI’s–“The Rise of the Machine.” ” . . . . Jeff Dean, one of Google’s leading engineers, spotlighted a Google project called AutoML. ML is short for machine learning, referring to computer algorithms that can learn to perform particular tasks on their own by analyzing data. AutoML, in turn, is a machine learning algorithm that learns to build other machine-learning algorithms. With it, Google may soon find a way to create A.I. technology that can partly take the humans out of building the A.I. systems that many believe are the future of the technology industry. . . .”


FTR #946 In Your Facebook: A Virtual Panopticon, Part 2

In FTR #718 (recorded on Independence Day weekend of 2010), we noted that the new social medium–Facebook-might very well be the opposite of the liberating, empowering entity many believed it to be.

On the contrary, we said–it received financial backing from the CIA, permits unprecedented gathering and databasing of users’ personal information, and might very well be a “panopticon”–a type of prison in which the interned can never see his or her jailers, but their keepers can see the interned at all times.

In particular, we noted the prominent position of major Facebook investor Peter Thiel in “Mondo Zuckerberg.” Of German (and probable I.G. Farben) origins, we opined that Thiel was Underground Reich. Opposed to democracy because he feels it is inimical to wealth creation and doesn’t believe women should be allowed to vote, Thiel has now emerged as one of the most prominent of Donald Trump’s supporters, transition team creators and influential policy wonks.

Whereas we explored the “virtual panopticon” concept of Facebook with a question mark in 2010, we now feel affirmatively on the issue.

A very important story from New York magazine sets forth Facebook’s role in the just-concluded election. ” . . . . Facebook’s size, reach, wealth, and power make it effectively the only one that matters. And, boy, does it matter. At the risk of being hyperbolic, I think there are few events over the last decade more significant than the social network’s wholesale acquisition of the traditional functions of news media (not to mention the political-party apparatus). Trump’s ascendancy is far from the first material consequence of Facebook’s conquering invasion of our social, cultural, and political lives, but it’s still a bracing reminder of the extent to which the social network is able to upend existing structure and transform society — and often not for the better. . . .

” . . . . Facebook’s enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies — i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm — makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three. . . .

” . . . . And at the heart of the problem, anyway, is not the motivations of the hoaxers but the structure of social media itself. Tens of millions of people, invigorated by insurgent outsider candidates and anger at perceived political enemies, were served up or shared emotionally charged news stories about the candidates, because Facebook’s sorting algorithm understood from experience that they were seeking such stories. Many of those stories were lies, or ‘parodies,’ but their appearance and placement in a news feed were no different from those of any publisher with a commitment to, you know, not lying. As those people and their followers clicked on, shared, or otherwise engaged with those stories — which they did, because Trump drives engagement extremely bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engagement-driving feedback loop reached the heights of Facebook itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occasion after firing the small team of editorial employees tasked with passing news judgment. . . .

” . . . . Something like 170 million people in North America use Facebook every day, a number that’s not only several orders of magnitude larger than even the most optimistic circulation reckonings of major news outlets but also about one-and-a-half times as many people as voted on Tuesday. Forty-four percent of all adults in the United States say they get news from Facebook . . . ”

Symptomatic of Facebook’s filter of what its users see concerns the social medium’s recent non-coverage of the women’s march:

” . . . . We don’t usually post on Pando at the weekend, but this is too topical and too shameful to wait until Monday. As you certainly know, today is the day of the Women’s March on Washington in protest of Donald Trump. The main event is in DC, where something close to 500,000 protesters of all genders and ages have packed the streets — but there are also major protests in Chicago, New York and around the world. Including Antarctica.

You certainly know this because the protest march is the top story on every major news outlet, and because updates and photos from the event are flooding your Twitter and Facebook feeds.

And yet, here’s what Facebook’s trending news feed looked like at the height of the march…

And here’s its trending politics feed…

Notice anything missing?

Like, say, a half million women? . . .

In case you think I’m seeing something different from the rest of the world, be assured I’m not….”

Facebook has changed its algorithm, no longer factoring in “likes” and other personal preferences in determining its news feed.

This, however, does not bode as well as Facebook would like us to believe. Facebook has promoted, among others, Campbell Brown, to an important position in structuring its news feed: ” . . . . Brown has longstanding ties not just to the traditional news media, but also to conservative politics, although she describes herself as a political independent. She is a close personal friend of Betsy DeVos, the Republican megadonor who is Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, and is married to Dan Senor, a former top advisor to Mitt Romney who also served as spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. . . .

. . . . And alongside her mainstream media experience, Brown is familiar with the world of non-traditional news outlets springing up online. In 2014, she founded a nonprofit news site, The 74, which bills itself as nonpartisan but which critics have said functions as advocacy journalism, tilted in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions. The site was launched with money from donors including the foundation run by DeVos, Trump’s proposed Education Secretary. When the nomination was announced, Brown said she would recuse herself from The 74’s coverage of DeVos. . .”

Brown is joined by Tucker Bounds, a former John McCain adviser and spokesman for the McCain/Palin campaign.

Exemplifying the terrifying possibilities of the virtual panopticon, we examine the nexus of Cambridge Analytica, its principal investors, Robert and Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon, a key member of the firm’s board of directors and a political guru to Rebekah. ” . . . . For several years, a data firm eventually hired by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, has been using Facebook as a tool to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million adult Americans. A spinoff of a British consulting company and sometime-defense contractor known for its counterterrorism ‘psy ops’ work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seeding the social network with personality quizzes. Respondents — by now hundreds of thousands of us, mostly female and mostly young but enough male and older for the firm to make inferences about others with similar behaviors and demographics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cambridge Analytica also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Facebook, gains access to their profiles and real names.

“Cambridge Analytica worked on the ‘Leave’ side of the Brexit campaign. In the United States it takes only Republicans as clients: Senator Ted Cruz in the primaries, Mr. Trump in the general election. Cambridge is reportedly backed by Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire and a major Republican donor; a key board member is Stephen K. Bannon, the head of Breitbart News who became Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman and is set to be his chief strategist in the White House. . .

” . . . . Their [the Mercers] data firm, Cambridge Analytica, was hired by the Cruz campaign. They switched to support Trump shortly after he clinched the nomination, and he eventually hired Cambridge Analytica, as well. Their top political guru is Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman and White House chief strategist. They’re close, too, with Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who also has a senior role in the White House. They never speak to the press and hardly ever even release a public statement. Like Trump himself, they’ve flouted the standard playbook for how things are done in politics. . . .”

Bannon’s influence on Rebekah Mercer is particularly strong: ” . . . Another of the Republican operatives described Bannon as the ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ to Rebekah Mercer, and a third was even more pointed: ‘Svengali.’ Bannon is ‘really, really, really influential’ with Mercer, said the former Breitbart employee. The Mercers, the former employee said, made their wishes known through Bannon, who would sometimes cite the company’s financial backers as a reason for Breitbart not to do a story. Bannon didn’t respond to a request for comment about this. . . .”

In turn, the influence of Steve Bannon within the Facebook virtual panopticon is even more sinister considering Bannon’s political outlook: ” . . . . But, said the source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about Bannon, ‘There are some things he’s only going to share with people who he’s tight with and who he trusts.’

Bannon’s readings tend to have one thing in common: the view that technocrats have put Western civilization on a downward trajectory and that only a shock to the system can reverse its decline. And they tend to have a dark, apocalyptic tone that at times echoes Bannon’s own public remarks over the years—a sense that humanity is at a hinge point in history. . . .”

One of the influences on Bannon is Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug, who has actually opened a backchannel advisory connection to the White House: ” . . . . Before he emerged on the political scene, an obscure Silicon Valley computer programmer with ties to Trump backer and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel was explaining his behavior. Curtis Yarvin, the self-proclaimed ‘neoreactionary’ who blogs under the name ‘Mencius Moldbug,’ attracted a following in 2008 when he published a wordy treatise asserting, among other things, that ‘nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth.’ When the organizer of a computer science conference canceled Yarvin’s appearance following an outcry over his blogging under his nom de web, Bannon took note: Breitbart News decried the act of censorship in an article about the programmer-blogger’s dismissal.

Moldbug’s dense, discursive musings on history—’What’s so bad about the Nazis?’ he asks in one 2008 post that condemns the Holocaust but questions the moral superiority of the Allies—include a belief in the utility of spreading misinformation that now looks like a template for Trump’s approach to truth. ‘To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable [sic] demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army,’ he writes in a May 2008 post.’It’s been a while since I posted anything really controversial and offensive here,’ he begins in a July 25, 2007, post explaining why he associates democracy with ‘war, tyranny, destruction and poverty.’

Moldbug, who does not do interviews and could not be reached for this story, has reportedly opened up a line to the White House, communicating with Bannon and his aides through an intermediary, according to a source. Yarvin said he has never spoken with Bannon. . . .”

After discussing Facebook’s new AI technology being employed to search users’ photos, the program concludes with the shift of Silicon Valley money to the GOP.

Program Highlights Include: review of Steve Bannon’s role on the NSC; review of the martial law contingency plans drawn up by Oliver North during the Reagan administration, involving the deputizing of paramilitary right-wingers; review of Erik Prince’s relationship to the Trump administration and Betsy De Vos, Trump’s education secretary.


Beware of Dragon Slayers Bearing Bad Ideas. They Might Not Be Fair. Or Useful

As should be obvious to nearly everyone with an internet connection these days, Google is both really useful and kind of terrifying given the scope of how much Google knows about nearly all of us and how much it controls what we know. The fact that Google’s list of corporate ambitions includes things like ‘owning the internet’ and owning the internet’s pipes doesn’t really. And then there’s the killer robots and wage-theft. All in all, it’s not hard to hope Google gets Scroogled. Soon.

But there’s more than one way to screw Google and not everyone that fears Google is some random consumer. Major corporate entities also fear Google and it just so happens that a coalition of many of the largest publisher in Europe has a plan to slay the Google Dragon they fear so much. Unfortunately, this coalition might slay “fair use” across the internet in the process. That’s right, copyright law could be getting a big ‘upgrade’ in the digital realm as part of a new anti-Google initiative in a way that upgrades the bottom line of the biggest publishers and downgrades everyone else’s general ability to find news articles and talk about the world. This is happening.