Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

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

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This broad­cast was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

Intro­duc­tion: 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.

For pur­pos­es of refresh­ing the line of argu­ment pre­sent­ed here, we ref­er­ence 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 leviathanHack­ers (‘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. . . .”

Pro and Con on the sub­ject of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

1.  There was a chill­ing recent opin­ion piece in the New York Times. 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 well, 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. . . .”

“Our Hack­able Polit­i­cal Future” by Hen­ry J. Far­rell and Rick Perl­stein; The New York Times; 02/04/2018

Imag­ine it is the spring of 2019. A bot­tom-feed­ing web­site, per­haps tied to Rus­sia, “sur­faces” video of a sex scene star­ring an 18-year-old Kirsten Gilli­brand. It is soon debunked as a fake, the prod­uct of a user-friend­ly video appli­ca­tion that employs gen­er­a­tive adver­sar­i­al net­work tech­nol­o­gy to con­vinc­ing­ly swap out one face for anoth­er.

It is the sum­mer of 2019, and the sto­ry, pre­dictably, has stuck around — part talk-show joke, part right-wing talk­ing point. “It’s news,” polit­i­cal jour­nal­ists say in their own defense. “Peo­ple are talk­ing about it. How can we not?”

Then it is fall. The junior sen­a­tor from New York State announces her cam­paign for the pres­i­den­cy. At a din­er in New Hamp­shire, one “low infor­ma­tion” vot­er asks anoth­er: “Kirsten What’s‑her-name? She’s run­ning for pres­i­dent? Didn’t she have some­thing to do with pornog­ra­phy?”

Wel­come to the shape of things to come. 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.

Pro­grams like these have many legit­i­mate appli­ca­tions. They can help com­put­er-secu­ri­ty experts probe for weak­ness­es in their defens­es and help self-dri­ving cars learn how to nav­i­gate unusu­al weath­er con­di­tions. But 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.

A pro­gram called Face2Face, devel­oped at Stan­ford, films one per­son speak­ing, then manip­u­lates that person’s image to resem­ble some­one else’s. Throw in voice manip­u­la­tion tech­nol­o­gy, and you can lit­er­al­ly make any­one say any­thing — or at least seem to.

The tech­nol­o­gy isn’t quite there; Princess Leia was a lit­tle wood­en, if you looked care­ful­ly. But it’s clos­er than you might think. And even when fake video isn’t per­fect, it can con­vince peo­ple who want to be con­vinced, espe­cial­ly when it rein­forces offen­sive gen­der or racial stereo­types.

In 2007, Barack Obama’s polit­i­cal oppo­nents insist­ed that footage exist­ed of Michelle Oba­ma rant­i­ng against “whitey.” In the future, they may not have to wor­ry about whether it actu­al­ly exist­ed. If some­one called their bluff, they may sim­ply be able to invent it, using data from stock pho­tos and pre-exist­ing footage.

The next step would be one we are already famil­iar with: the exploita­tion of the algo­rithms used by social media sites like Twit­ter and Face­book to spread sto­ries viral­ly to those most inclined to show inter­est in them, even if those sto­ries are fake.

It might be impos­si­ble to stop the advance of this kind of tech­nol­o­gy. But the rel­e­vant algo­rithms here aren’t only the ones that run on com­put­er hard­ware. They are also the ones that under­gird our too eas­i­ly hacked media sys­tem, where garbage acquires the per­fumed scent of legit­i­ma­cy with all too much ease. Edi­tors, jour­nal­ists and news pro­duc­ers can play a role here — for good or for bad.

Out­lets like Fox News spread sto­ries about the mur­der of Demo­c­ra­t­ic staff mem­bers and F.B.I. con­spir­a­cies to frame the pres­i­dent. Tra­di­tion­al news orga­ni­za­tions, fear­ing that they might be left behind in the new atten­tion econ­o­my, strug­gle to max­i­mize “engage­ment with con­tent.”

This gives them a built-in incen­tive to spread infor­ma­tion­al virus­es that enfee­ble the very demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions that allow a free media to thrive. Cable news shows con­sid­er it their pro­fes­sion­al duty to pro­vide “bal­ance” by giv­ing par­ti­san talk­ing heads free rein to spout non­sense — or ampli­fy the non­sense of our cur­rent pres­i­dent.

It already feels as though we are liv­ing in an alter­na­tive sci­ence-fic­tion uni­verse where no one agrees on what it true. Just think how much worse it will be when fake news becomes fake video. Democ­ra­cy assumes that its cit­i­zens share the same real­i­ty. We’re about to find out whether democ­ra­cy can be pre­served when this assump­tion no longer holds.

2. Both Twit­ter and Porn­Hub, the online pornog­ra­phy giant, are already tak­ing action to remove numer­ous “Deep­fake” videos of celebri­ties being super-imposed onto porn actors in response to the flood of such videos that are already being gen­er­at­ed.

“Porn­Hub, Twit­ter Ban ‘Deep­fake’ AI-Mod­i­fied Porn” by Angela Moscar­i­to­lo; PC Mag­a­zine; 02/07/2018.

It might be kind of com­i­cal to see Nico­las Cage’s face on the body of a woman, but expect to see less of this type of con­tent float­ing around on Porn­Hub and Twit­ter in the future.

As Moth­er­board first report­ed, both sites are tak­ing action against arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence-pow­ered pornog­ra­phy, known as “deep­fakes.”

Deep­fakes, for the unini­ti­at­ed, are porn videos cre­at­ed by using a machine learn­ing algo­rithm to match someone’s face to anoth­er person’s body. Loads of celebri­ties have had their faces used in porn scenes with­out their con­sent, and the results are almost flaw­less. Check out the SFW exam­ple below for a bet­ter idea of what we’re talk­ing about.
[see chill­ing­ly real­is­tic video of Nico­las Cage’s head on a woman’s body]
In a state­ment to PCMag on Wednes­day, Porn­Hub Vice Pres­i­dent Corey Price said the com­pa­ny in 2015 intro­duced a sub­mis­sion form, which lets users eas­i­ly flag non­con­sen­su­al con­tent like revenge porn for removal. Peo­ple have also start­ed using that tool to flag deep­fakes, he said.

The com­pa­ny still has a lot of clean­ing up to do. Moth­er­board report­ed there are still tons of deep­fakes on Porn­Hub.

“I was able to eas­i­ly find dozens of deep­fakes post­ed in the last few days, many under the search term ‘deep­fakes’ or with deep­fakes and the name of celebri­ties in the title of the video,” Motherboard’s Saman­tha Cole wrote.

Over on Twit­ter, mean­while, users can now be sus­pend­ed for post­ing deep­fakes and oth­er non­con­sen­su­al porn.

“We will sus­pend any account we iden­ti­fy as the orig­i­nal poster of inti­mate media that has been pro­duced or dis­trib­uted with­out the subject’s con­sent,” a Twit­ter spokesper­son told Moth­er­board. “We will also sus­pend any account ded­i­cat­ed to post­ing this type of con­tent.”

The site report­ed that Dis­cord and Gfy­cat take a sim­i­lar stance on deep­fakes. For now, these types of videos appear to be pri­mar­i­ly cir­cu­lat­ing via Red­dit, where the deep­fake com­mu­ni­ty cur­rent­ly boasts around 90,000 sub­scribers.

3. No “ifs,” “ands,” or “bots!”  ” . . . . 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. . . .”

“Please Prove You’re Not a Robot” by Tim Wu; The New York Times; 7/16/2017; p. 8 (Review Sec­tion).

 When sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers first imag­ined robot inva­sions, the idea was that bots would become smart and pow­er­ful enough to take over the world by force, whether on their own or as direct­ed by some evil­do­er. In real­i­ty, some­thing only slight­ly less scary is hap­pen­ing.

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. For pop­u­lar Broad­way shows (need we say “Hamil­ton”?), it is actu­al­ly bots, not humans, who do much and maybe most of the tick­et buy­ing. Shows sell out imme­di­ate­ly, and the mid­dle­men (quite lit­er­al­ly, evil robot mas­ters) reap mil­lions in ill-got­ten gains.

Philip Howard, who runs the Com­pu­ta­tion­al Pro­pa­gan­da Research Project at Oxford, stud­ied the deploy­ment of pro­pa­gan­da bots dur­ing vot­ing on Brex­it, and the recent Amer­i­can and French pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Twit­ter is par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­tort­ed by its mil­lions of robot accounts; dur­ing the French elec­tion, it was prin­ci­pal­ly Twit­ter robots who were try­ing to make #Macron­Leaks into a scan­dal. Face­book has admit­ted it was essen­tial­ly hacked dur­ing the Amer­i­can elec­tion in Novem­ber. In Michi­gan, Mr. Howard notes, “junk news was shared just as wide­ly as pro­fes­sion­al news in the days lead­ing up to the elec­tion.”

Robots are also being used to attack the demo­c­ra­t­ic fea­tures of the admin­is­tra­tive state. This spring, the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion put its pro­posed revo­ca­tion of net neu­tral­i­ty up for pub­lic com­ment. In pre­vi­ous years such pro­ceed­ings attract­ed mil­lions of (human) com­men­ta­tors. This time, some­one with an agen­da but no actu­al pub­lic sup­port unleashed robots who imper­son­at­ed (via stolen iden­ti­ties) hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, flood­ing the sys­tem with fake com­ments against fed­er­al net neu­tral­i­ty rules.

To be sure, today’s imper­son­ation-bots are dif­fer­ent from the robots imag­ined in sci­ence fic­tion: They aren’t sen­tient, don’t car­ry weapons and don’t have phys­i­cal bod­ies. Instead, fake humans just have what­ev­er is nec­es­sary to make them seem human enough to “pass”: a name, per­haps a vir­tu­al appear­ance, a cred­it-card num­ber and, if nec­es­sary, a pro­fes­sion, birth­day and home address. They are brought to life by pro­grams or scripts that give one per­son the pow­er to imi­tate thou­sands.

The prob­lem is almost cer­tain to get worse, spread­ing to even more areas of life as bots are trained to become bet­ter at mim­ic­k­ing humans. Giv­en the degree to which prod­uct reviews have been swamped by robots (which tend to hand out five stars with aban­don), com­mer­cial sab­o­tage in the form of neg­a­tive bot reviews is not hard to pre­dict.

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. So far, we’ve been con­tent to leave the prob­lem to the tech indus­try, where the focus has been on build­ing defens­es, usu­al­ly in the form of Captchas (“com­plete­ly auto­mat­ed pub­lic Tur­ing test to tell com­put­ers and humans apart”), those annoy­ing “type this” tests to prove you are not a robot. But leav­ing it all to indus­try is not a long-term solu­tion.

For one thing, the defens­es don’t actu­al­ly deter imper­son­ation bots, but per­verse­ly reward who­ev­er can beat them. And per­haps the great­est prob­lem for a democ­ra­cy is that com­pa­nies like Face­book and Twit­ter lack a seri­ous finan­cial incen­tive to do any­thing about mat­ters of pub­lic con­cern, like the mil­lions of fake users who are cor­rupt­ing the demo­c­ra­t­ic process.

Twit­ter esti­mates at least 27 mil­lion prob­a­bly fake accounts; researchers sug­gest the real num­ber is clos­er to 48 mil­lion, yet the com­pa­ny does lit­tle about the prob­lem. The prob­lem is a pub­lic as well as pri­vate one, and imper­son­ation robots should be con­sid­ered what the law calls “hostis humani gener­is”: ene­mies of mankind, like pirates and oth­er out­laws. That would allow for a bet­ter offen­sive strat­e­gy: bring­ing the pow­er of the state to bear on the peo­ple deploy­ing the robot armies to attack com­merce or democ­ra­cy.

The ide­al anti-robot cam­paign would employ a mixed tech­no­log­i­cal and legal approach. Improved robot detec­tion might help us find the robot mas­ters or poten­tial­ly help nation­al secu­ri­ty unleash coun­ter­at­tacks, which can be nec­es­sary when attacks come from over­seas. There may be room for dep­u­tiz­ing pri­vate par­ties to hunt down bad robots. A sim­ple legal rem­e­dy would be a “ Blade Run­ner” law that makes it ille­gal to deploy any pro­gram that hides its real iden­ti­ty to pose as a human. Auto­mat­ed process­es should be required to state, “I am a robot.” When deal­ing with a fake human, it would be nice to know.

Using robots to fake sup­port, steal tick­ets or crash democ­ra­cy real­ly is the kind of evil that sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers were warn­ing about. The use of robots takes advan­tage of the fact that polit­i­cal cam­paigns, elec­tions and even open mar­kets make human­is­tic assump­tions, trust­ing that there is wis­dom or at least legit­i­ma­cy in crowds and val­ue in pub­lic debate. But when sup­port and opin­ion can be man­u­fac­tured, bad or unpop­u­lar argu­ments can win not by log­ic but by a nov­el, dan­ger­ous form of force — the ulti­mate threat to every democ­ra­cy.

4. 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.’ . . . .”

“Track Hands of Work­ers? Ama­zon Has Patents for It” by Cey­lan Yegin­su; The New York Times; 2/2/2018; P. B3 [West­ern Edi­tion].

 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, though it was unclear if Ama­zon planned to actu­al­ly man­u­fac­ture the track­ing device and have employ­ees wear it.

The online retail giant, which plans to build a sec­ond head­quar­ters and recent­ly short­list­ed 20 poten­tial host cities for it, has also been known to exper­i­ment inhouse with new tech­nol­o­gy before sell­ing it world­wide.

Ama­zon, which rarely dis­clos­es infor­ma­tion on its patents, could not imme­di­ate­ly be reached for com­ment on Thurs­day. But the patent dis­clo­sure goes to the heart about a glob­al debate about pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty. Ama­zon already has a rep­u­ta­tion for a work­place cul­ture that thrives on a hard-hit­ting man­age­ment style, and has exper­i­ment­ed with how far it can push white-col­lar work­ers in order to reach its deliv­ery tar­gets.

Pri­va­cy advo­cates, how­ev­er, note that a lot can go wrong even with every­day track­ing tech­nol­o­gy. On Mon­day, the tech indus­try was jolt­ed by the dis­cov­ery that Stra­va, a fit­ness app that allows users to track their activ­i­ties and com­pare their per­for­mance with oth­er peo­ple run­ning or cycling in the same places, had unwit­ting­ly high­light­ed the loca­tions of Unit­ed States mil­i­tary bases and the move­ments of their per­son­nel in Iraq and Syr­ia.

The patent appli­ca­tions, filed in 2016, were pub­lished in Sep­tem­ber, and Ama­zon won them this week, accord­ing to Geek­Wire, which report­ed the patents’ pub­li­ca­tion on Tues­day. In the­o­ry, Amazon’s pro­posed tech­nol­o­gy would emit ultra­son­ic sound puls­es and radio trans­mis­sions to track where an employee’s hands were in rela­tion to inven­to­ry bins, and pro­vide “hap­tic feed­back” to steer the work­er toward the cor­rect bin.

The aim, Ama­zon says in the patent, is to stream­line “time con­sum­ing” tasks, like respond­ing to orders and pack­ag­ing them for speedy deliv­ery. With guid­ance from a wrist­band, work­ers could fill orders faster. Crit­ics say such wrist­bands raise con­cerns about pri­va­cy and would add a new lay­er of sur­veil­lance to the work­place, and that the use of the devices could result in employ­ees being treat­ed more like robots than human beings.

Cur­rent and for­mer Ama­zon employ­ees said the com­pa­ny already used sim­i­lar track­ing tech­nol­o­gy in its ware­hous­es and said they would not be sur­prised if it put the patents into prac­tice.

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.”

Many com­pa­nies file patents for prod­ucts that nev­er see the light of day. And Ama­zon would not be the first employ­er to push bound­aries in the search for a more effi­cient, speedy work force. Com­pa­nies are increas­ing­ly intro­duc­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence into the work­place to help with pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and tech­nol­o­gy is often used to mon­i­tor employ­ee where­abouts.

One com­pa­ny in Lon­don is devel­op­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tems to flag unusu­al work­place behav­ior, while anoth­er used a mes­sag­ing appli­ca­tion to track its employ­ees. In Wis­con­sin, a tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny called Three Square Mar­ket offered employ­ees an oppor­tu­ni­ty to have microchips implant­ed under their skin in order, it said, to be able to use its ser­vices seam­less­ly. Ini­tial­ly, more than 50 out of 80 staff mem­bers at its head­quar­ters in Riv­er Falls, Wis., vol­un­teered.

5. 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.’ . . . .”

“Ear­ly Face­book and Google Employ­ees Join Forces to Fight What They Built” by Nel­lie Bowles; The New York Times; 2/5/2018; p. B6 [West­ern Edi­tion].

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 cohort is cre­at­ing a union of con­cerned experts called the Cen­ter for Humane Tech­nol­o­gy. Along with the non­prof­it media watch­dog group Com­mon Sense Media, it also plans an anti-tech addic­tion lob­by­ing effort and an ad cam­paign at 55,000 pub­lic schools in the Unit­ed States.

The cam­paign, titled The Truth About Tech, will be fund­ed with $7 mil­lion from Com­mon Sense and cap­i­tal raised by the Cen­ter for Humane Tech­nol­o­gy. Com­mon Sense also has $50 mil­lion in donat­ed media and air­time from part­ners includ­ing Com­cast and DirecTV. It will be aimed at edu­cat­ing stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers about the dan­gers of tech­nol­o­gy, includ­ing the depres­sion that can come from heavy use of social media.

“We were on the inside,” said Tris­tan Har­ris, a for­mer in-house ethi­cist at Google who is head­ing the new group. “We know what the com­pa­nies mea­sure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engi­neer­ing works.”

The effect of tech­nol­o­gy, espe­cial­ly on younger minds, has become hot­ly debat­ed in recent months. In Jan­u­ary, two big Wall Street investors asked Apple to study the health effects of its prod­ucts and to make it eas­i­er to lim­it children’s use of iPhones and iPads. Pedi­atric and men­tal health experts called on Face­book last week to aban­don a mes­sag­ing ser­vice the com­pa­ny had intro­duced for chil­dren as young as 6.

Par­ent­ing groups have also sound­ed the alarm about YouTube Kids, a prod­uct aimed at chil­dren that some­times fea­tures dis­turb­ing con­tent. “The largest super­com­put­ers in the world are inside of two com­pa­nies — Google and Face­book — and where are we point­ing them?” Mr. Har­ris said. “We’re point­ing them at people’s brains, at chil­dren.” Sil­i­con Val­ley exec­u­tives for years posi­tioned their com­pa­nies as tight-knit fam­i­lies and rarely spoke pub­licly against one anoth­er.

That has changed. Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya, a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist who was an ear­ly employ­ee at Face­book, said in Novem­ber that the social net­work was “rip­ping apart the social fab­ric of how soci­ety works.” The new Cen­ter for Humane Tech­nol­o­gy includes an unprece­dent­ed alliance of for­mer employ­ees of some of today’s biggest tech com­pa­nies.

Apart from Mr. Har­ris, the cen­ter includes Sandy Parak­i­las, a for­mer Face­book oper­a­tions man­ag­er; Lynn Fox, a for­mer Apple and Google com­mu­ni­ca­tions exec­u­tive; Dave Morin, a for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive; Justin Rosen­stein, who cre­at­ed Facebook’s Like but­ton and is a co-founder of Asana; Roger McNamee, an ear­ly investor in Face­book; and Renée DiRes­ta, a tech­nol­o­gist who stud­ies bots. The group expects its num­bers to grow.

Its first project to reform the indus­try will be to intro­duce a Ledger of Harms — a web­site aimed at guid­ing rank-and-file engi­neers who are con­cerned about what they are being asked to build. The site will include data on the health effects of dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies and ways to make prod­ucts that are health­i­er.

Jim Stey­er, chief exec­u­tive and founder of Com­mon Sense, said the Truth About Tech cam­paign was mod­eled on anti­smok­ing dri­ves and focused on chil­dren because of their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. That may sway tech chief exec­u­tives to change, he said. Already, Apple’s chief exec­u­tive, Tim­o­thy D. Cook, told The Guardian last month that he would not let his nephew on social media, while the Face­book investor Sean Park­er also recent­ly said of the social net­work that “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Mr. Stey­er said, “You see a degree of hypocrisy with all these guys in Sil­i­con Val­ley.” The new group also plans to begin lob­by­ing for laws to cur­tail the pow­er of big tech com­pa­nies. It will ini­tial­ly focus on two pieces of leg­is­la­tion: a bill being intro­duced by Sen­a­tor Edward J. Markey, Demo­c­rat of Mass­a­chu­setts, that would com­mis­sion research on technology’s impact on children’s health, and a bill in Cal­i­for­nia by State Sen­a­tor Bob Hertzberg, a Demo­c­rat, which would pro­hib­it the use of dig­i­tal bots with­out iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Mr. McNamee 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.” He said the peo­ple who made these prod­ucts could stop them before they did more harm. “This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for me to cor­rect a wrong,” Mr. McNamee said.

6. 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. . . .”

“The Rise of the Machine” by Cade Metz; The New York Times; 11/6/2017; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion].

 They are a dream of researchers but per­haps a night­mare for high­ly skilled com­put­er pro­gram­mers: arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent machines that can build oth­er arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent machines. With recent speech­es in both Sil­i­con Val­ley and Chi­na, 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. The project is part of a much larg­er effort to bring the lat­est and great­est A.I. tech­niques to a wider col­lec­tion of com­pa­nies and soft­ware devel­op­ers.

The tech indus­try is promis­ing every­thing from smart­phone apps that can rec­og­nize faces to cars that can dri­ve on their own. But by some esti­mates, only 10,000 peo­ple world­wide have the edu­ca­tion, expe­ri­ence and tal­ent need­ed to build the com­plex and some­times mys­te­ri­ous math­e­mat­i­cal algo­rithms that will dri­ve this new breed of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

The world’s largest tech busi­ness­es, includ­ing Google, Face­book and Microsoft, some­times pay mil­lions of dol­lars a year to A.I. experts, effec­tive­ly cor­ner­ing the mar­ket for this hard-to-find tal­ent. The short­age isn’t going away any­time soon, just because mas­ter­ing these skills takes years of work. The indus­try is not will­ing to wait. Com­pa­nies are devel­op­ing all sorts of tools that will make it eas­i­er for any oper­a­tion to build its own A.I. soft­ware, includ­ing things like image and speech recog­ni­tion ser­vices and online chat­bots. “We are fol­low­ing the same path that com­put­er sci­ence has fol­lowed with every new type of tech­nol­o­gy,” said Joseph Sirosh, a vice pres­i­dent at Microsoft, which recent­ly unveiled a tool to help coders build deep neur­al net­works, a type of com­put­er algo­rithm that is dri­ving much of the recent progress in the A.I. field. “We are elim­i­nat­ing a lot of the heavy lift­ing.” This is not altru­ism.

Researchers like Mr. Dean believe that if more peo­ple and com­pa­nies are work­ing on arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, it will pro­pel their own research. At the same time, com­pa­nies like Google, Ama­zon and Microsoft see seri­ous mon­ey in the trend that Mr. Sirosh described. All of them are sell­ing cloud-com­put­ing ser­vices that can help oth­er busi­ness­es and devel­op­ers build A.I. “There is real demand for this,” said Matt Scott, a co-founder and the chief tech­ni­cal offi­cer of Mal­ong, a start-up in Chi­na that offers sim­i­lar ser­vices. “And the tools are not yet sat­is­fy­ing all the demand.”

This is most like­ly what Google has in mind for AutoML, as the com­pa­ny con­tin­ues to hail the project’s progress. Google’s chief exec­u­tive, Sun­dar Pichai, boast­ed about AutoML last month while unveil­ing a new Android smart­phone.

Even­tu­al­ly, the Google project will help com­pa­nies build sys­tems with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence even if they don’t have exten­sive exper­tise, Mr. Dean said. Today, he esti­mat­ed, no more than a few thou­sand com­pa­nies have the right tal­ent for build­ing A.I., but many more have the nec­es­sary data. “We want to go from thou­sands of orga­ni­za­tions solv­ing machine learn­ing prob­lems to mil­lions,” he said.

Google is invest­ing heav­i­ly in cloud-com­put­ing ser­vices — ser­vices that help oth­er busi­ness­es build and run soft­ware — which it expects to be one of its pri­ma­ry eco­nom­ic engines in the years to come. And after snap­ping up such a large por­tion of the world’s top A.I researchers, it has a means of jump-start­ing this engine.

Neur­al net­works are rapid­ly accel­er­at­ing the devel­op­ment of A.I. Rather than build­ing an image-recog­ni­tion ser­vice or a lan­guage trans­la­tion app by hand, one line of code at a time, engi­neers can much more quick­ly build an algo­rithm that learns tasks on its own. By ana­lyz­ing the sounds in a vast col­lec­tion of old tech­ni­cal sup­port calls, for instance, a machine-learn­ing algo­rithm can learn to rec­og­nize spo­ken words.

But build­ing a neur­al net­work is not like build­ing a web­site or some run-of-themill smart­phone app. It requires sig­nif­i­cant math skills, extreme tri­al and error, and a fair amount of intu­ition. Jean-François Gag­né, the chief exec­u­tive of an inde­pen­dent machine-learn­ing lab called Ele­ment AI, refers to the process as “a new kind of com­put­er pro­gram­ming.”

In build­ing a neur­al net­work, researchers run dozens or even hun­dreds of exper­i­ments across a vast net­work of machines, test­ing how well an algo­rithm can learn a task like rec­og­niz­ing an image or trans­lat­ing from one lan­guage to anoth­er. Then they adjust par­tic­u­lar parts of the algo­rithm over and over again, until they set­tle on some­thing that works. Some call it a “dark art,” just because researchers find it dif­fi­cult to explain why they make par­tic­u­lar adjust­ments.

But with AutoML, Google is try­ing to auto­mate this process. It is build­ing algo­rithms that ana­lyze the devel­op­ment of oth­er algo­rithms, learn­ing which meth­ods are suc­cess­ful and which are not. Even­tu­al­ly, they learn to build more effec­tive machine learn­ing. Google said AutoML could now build algo­rithms that, in some cas­es, iden­ti­fied objects in pho­tos more accu­rate­ly than ser­vices built sole­ly by human experts. Bar­ret Zoph, one of the Google researchers behind the project, believes that the same method will even­tu­al­ly work well for oth­er tasks, like speech recog­ni­tion or machine trans­la­tion. This is not always an easy thing to wrap your head around. But it is part of a sig­nif­i­cant trend in A.I. research. Experts call it “learn­ing to learn” or “met­alearn­ing.”

Many believe such meth­ods will sig­nif­i­cant­ly accel­er­ate the progress of A.I. in both the online and phys­i­cal worlds. At the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, researchers are build­ing tech­niques that could allow robots to learn new tasks based on what they have learned in the past. “Com­put­ers are going to invent the algo­rithms for us, essen­tial­ly,” said a Berke­ley pro­fes­sor, Pieter Abbeel. “Algo­rithms invent­ed by com­put­ers can solve many, many prob­lems very quick­ly — at least that is the hope.”

This is also a way of expand­ing the num­ber of peo­ple and busi­ness­es that can build arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. These meth­ods will not replace A.I. researchers entire­ly. Experts, like those at Google, must still do much of the impor­tant design work.

But the belief is that the work of a few experts can help many oth­ers build their own soft­ware. Rena­to Negrin­ho, a researcher at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty who is explor­ing tech­nol­o­gy sim­i­lar to AutoML, said this was not a real­i­ty today but should be in the years to come. “It is just a mat­ter of when,” he said.

 

 

 

Discussion

13 comments for “FTR #996 Civilization’s Twilight: Update on Technocratic Fascism”

  1. After what might be the short­est stint ever as a New York Times op-ed colum­nist, the Times has a new job open­ing on opin­ion sec­tion. After announc­ing the hir­ing of Quinn Nor­ton as a new technology/hacker cul­ture colum­nist Tues­day after­noon, the Times let her go lat­er that evening. Why the sud­den cold feet? A tweet. Or, rather, a num­ber of Nor­ton’s tweets that were wide­ly point­ed out after Nor­ton’s hir­ing.

    The numer­ous tweets where she would call peo­ple “fag” and “fag­got” or used the N‑word cer­tain­ly did­n’t help. But it was her tweets about Nazis that appear to be what real­ly sank her employ­ment prospects. So what did Quinn Nor­ton tweet about Nazis that got her fired? That she has a Nazi friend. She does­n’t agree with her Nazi friend’s racist views, but they’re still friends and still talk some­times.

    And who is this Nazi friend of hers? Neo-Nazi hack­er Andrew ‘weev’ Auern­heimer, of course. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle points out, while Nor­ton’s friend­ship with Auern­himer — who waged a death threat cam­paign against the employ­ees of CNN, let’s not for­get — is indeed a trou­bling, it’s not like Nor­ton is the only tech/privacy jour­nal­ist who con­sid­ers the weev both a friend an a hero:

    Slate

    Why Would a Tech Jour­nal­ist Be Friends With a Neo-Nazi Troll?
    Quinn Norton’s friend­ship with the noto­ri­ous Weev helped lose her a job at the New York Times. She wasn’t his only unlike­ly pal.

    By April Glaser
    Feb 14, 2018 1:42 PM

    The New York Times opin­ion sec­tion announced a new hire Tues­day after­noon: Quinn Nor­ton, a long­time jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing (and trav­el­ing in) the tech­nol­o­gy indus­try and adja­cent hack­er sub­cul­ture, would become the edi­to­r­i­al board’s lead opin­ion writer on the “pow­er, cul­ture, and con­se­quences of tech­nol­o­gy.” Hours lat­er, the job offer was gone.

    The sharp turn occurred soon after Nor­ton shared her job news on Twit­ter, where it didn’t take long for peo­ple to sur­face tweets that, depend­ing on how you inter­pret the expla­na­tions Nor­ton tweet­ed Tues­day night, were either out­right vile or at min­i­mum colos­sal acts of bad judg­ment, no mat­ter what online sub­cul­tures Nor­ton was nav­i­gat­ing when she wrote them. Between 2013 and 2014, she repeat­ed­ly used the slurs fag and fag­got in pub­lic con­ver­sa­tions on Twit­ter. A white woman, she used the N‑word in a botched retweet of inter­net free­dom pio­neer John Per­ry Bar­low and once jok­ing­ly respond­ed to a thread on tone polic­ing with “what’s up my nig­ga.” Then there was a Medi­um post from 2013 in which she med­i­tat­ed on and praised the life of John Rabe, a Nazi leader who also helped to save thou­sands of Chi­nese peo­ple dur­ing World War II. She called him her “per­son­al patron saint of moral com­plex­i­ty.”

    And then, arguably most shock­ing of all, there were tweets in which Nor­ton defend­ed her long friend­ship with one of the most famous neo-Nazis in Amer­i­ca, Andrew Auern­heimer, known by his inter­net pseu­do­nym Weev. Among his many low­lights, Weev co-ran the web­site the Dai­ly Stormer, a hub for neo-Nazis and white suprema­cists.

    In a state­ment, the New York Times’ opin­ion edi­tor, James Ben­net, said, “Despite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our con­ver­sa­tions with her pre­vi­ous employ­ers, this was new infor­ma­tion to us.” On Twit­ter Tues­day night, Nor­ton wrote, “I’m sor­ry I can’t do the work I want­ed to do with them. I wish there had been a way, but ulti­mate­ly, they need to feel safe with how the net will react to their opin­ion writ­ers.” But it shouldn’t have tak­en a pub­lic out­cry for the Times to real­ize that Nor­ton, despite her impres­sive back­ground cov­er­ing the tech indus­try and some of the sub­cul­tures in its under­bel­ly, was like­ly a poor fit for the job.

    Lots of us have friends, acquain­tances, and rel­a­tives with opin­ions that are con­tro­ver­sial yet not so vile we need to eject them from our lives. Out­right Nazism is some­thing else. So how could a self-described “queer-activist” with pro­gres­sive bona fides and an appar­ent ded­i­ca­tion to out­ing abu­sive fig­ures in the tech indus­try be friends with a Nazi? For one thing, as Nor­ton explained, she some­times tried to speak the lan­guage of some of the more out­ré com­mu­ni­ties she cov­ered, like Anons and trolls. Friend can mean a lot of dif­fer­ent things, and her motives in speak­ing with Weev may have been admirable, if pos­si­bly mis­guid­ed. But when you look back at the his­to­ry of the inter­net free­dom com­mu­ni­ty with which she asso­ci­at­ed, her embrace of Weev fits into an ugly pat­tern. She was part of a com­mu­ni­ty that sup­port­ed Weev and his right to free expres­sion, often while fail­ing to denounce his val­ues and every­thing his white nation­al­ism, sex­ism, and anti-Semi­tism stood for. Any­one who thinks seri­ous­ly about the web—and hires peo­ple to cov­er it—ought to reck­on with why.

    Some back­ground: In Octo­ber, Nor­ton remind­ed her fol­low­ers that “Weev is a ter­ri­ble per­son, & an old friend of mine,” as she wrote in one of the tweets that sur­faced Tues­day night. “I’ve been very clear on this. Some of my friend are ter­ri­ble peo­ple, & also my friends.” Weev has said that Jew­ish chil­dren “deserve to die,” encour­aged death threats against his targets—often Jew­ish peo­ple and women—and released their address­es and con­tact infor­ma­tion onto the inter­net, caus­ing them to be so flood­ed with hate speech and threats of vio­lence that some fled their homes. Yet Nor­ton still found val­ue in the friend­ship. “Weev doesn’t talk to me much any­more, but we talk about the racism when­ev­er he does,” Nor­ton explained in a tweet Tues­day night. She explained that her “door is open when he, or any­one, wants to talk” and clar­i­fied that she would always make their con­ver­sa­tions “about the stu­pid­i­ty of racism” when they did get a chance to catch up.

    That Nor­ton would keep her door open to a man who harms lives does not make her an out­lier with­in parts of the hack­er and dig­i­tal rights com­mu­ni­ty, which took up arms to defend Weev in 2010 after he worked with a team to expose a hole in AT&T’s secu­ri­ty sys­tem that allowed the email address­es of about 114,000 iPad own­ers to be revealed—which he then shared with jour­nal­ists. For that, Weev was sen­tenced to three years in jail for iden­ti­ty fraud and access­ing a com­put­er with­out the prop­er autho­riza­tion. Despite being known as a par­tic­u­lar­ly ter­ri­fy­ing inter­net troll and anti-Semi­te, the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (where I used to work), cel­e­brat­ed tech­nol­o­gy law pro­fes­sor Orin Kerr, and oth­ers in the inter­net free­dom com­mu­ni­ty came to Weev’s defense, argu­ing that when a secu­ri­ty researcher finds a hole in a company’s sys­tem, it doesn’t mean the hack­ing was mali­cious and deserv­ing of pros­e­cu­tion. They were right. Out­side secu­ri­ty researchers should be able to find and dis­close vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in order to keep every­one else safe with­out break­ing a law.

    But the broad­er hack­er com­mu­ni­ty didn’t defend Weev on the mer­its of this par­tic­u­lar case while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly denounc­ing his hate­ful views. Instead it lion­ized him in keep­ing with its oppo­si­tion to dra­con­ian com­put­er crime laws. Artist Mol­ly Crabap­ple paint­ed a por­trait of Weev. There was a “Free Weev” web­site; the slo­gan was print­ed on T‑shirts. The charges were even­tu­al­ly over­turned 28 months before the end of Weev’s sen­tence, and when a jour­nal­ist accom­pa­nied his lawyer to pick Weev up from prison, he report­ed­ly blast­ed a white pow­er song on the dri­ve home. Dur­ing and after his impris­on­ment, Weev and Nor­ton kept in touch.

    And dur­ing his time in jail, Nor­ton appeared to pick up some trolling ten­den­cies of her own. “Here’s the deal, fag­got,” she wrote in a tweet from 2013. “Free speech comes with respon­si­bil­i­ty. not legal, but human. grown up. you can do this.” Nor­ton defend­ed her­self Tues­day night, say­ing this lan­guage was only ever used in the con­text of her work with Anony­mous, where that par­tic­u­lar slur is a kind of shib­bo­leth, but still, she was com­fort­able enough to use the word a lot, and on a pub­lic plat­form.

    Nor­ton, like so many cham­pi­ons of inter­net free­dom, is a staunch advo­cate of free speech. That was cer­tain­ly the view that allowed so much of the inter­net free­dom and hack­er com­mu­ni­ty to over­look Weev’s ardent anti-Semi­tism when he was on tri­al for break­ing into AT&T’s com­put­ers. The think­ing is that this is what comes with defend­ing people’s civ­il lib­er­ties: Some­times you’re going to defend a mas­sive racist. That’s true for both inter­net activists and the ACLU. It’s also total­ly pos­si­ble to defend someone’s right to say awful things and not become their “friend,” how­ev­er you define the term. But that’s some­thing Quinn didn’t do. And it’s some­thing that many of Weev’s defend­ers didn’t do, either.

    When civ­il lib­er­ties are defend­ed with­out adja­cent calls for social and eco­nom­ic jus­tice, the val­ues that under­gird calls for, say, free speech or pro­tec­tion from gov­ern­ment search and seizure can col­lapse. This is why neo-Nazis feel embold­ened to hold “free speech” ral­lies across the coun­try. It is why racist online com­mu­ni­ties are able to rail against the monop­o­lis­tic pow­er of com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google when they get boot­ed off their plat­forms. Count­less activists, engi­neers, and oth­ers have agi­tat­ed for decades for an open web—but in the process they’ve too often neglect­ed to fight for social and eco­nom­ic jus­tice at the same time. They’ve defend­ed free speech above all else, which encour­aged plat­forms to allow racists and big­ots and sex­ists and anti-Semi­tes to gath­er there with­out much issue.

    ...

    In a way, Norton’s friend­ship with Weev can be made sense of through the lens of the com­mu­ni­ties that they both trav­eled through. They belonged to a group that had the pre­scient insight that the inter­net was worth fight­ing for. Those fights were often rail­ing against the threat of cen­sor­ship, in defense of per­son­al pri­va­cy, and thus in defense of hack­ers who found secu­ri­ty holes, and the abil­i­ty to use the inter­net as freely as pos­si­ble, with­out gov­ern­ment med­dling. It’s a train of thought that pre­served free speech but didn’t simul­ta­ne­ous­ly work as hard to defend com­mu­ni­ties that were ostra­cized on the inter­net because so much of that speech was harm­ful. Norton’s report­ing has been valu­able; her con­tri­bu­tion to the #MeToo moment in the tech indus­try was, too. But what’s real­ly need­ed to make sense of tech­nol­o­gy at our cur­rent junc­ture prob­a­bly isn’t some­one so com­mit­ted to one of the lines of thought that helped get us here. Let’s hope the New York Times’ next pick for the job Nor­ton would have had exerts some fresh­er think­ing.

    ———-

    “Why Would a Tech Jour­nal­ist Be Friends With a Neo-Nazi Troll?” by April Glaser; Slate; 02/14/2018

    “And then, arguably most shock­ing of all, there were tweets in which Nor­ton defend­ed her long friend­ship with one of the most famous neo-Nazis in Amer­i­ca, Andrew Auern­heimer, known by his inter­net pseu­do­nym Weev. Among his many low­lights, Weev co-ran the web­site the Dai­ly Stormer, a hub for neo-Nazis and white suprema­cists.”

    Yeah, there’s noth­ing quite like your tweet his­to­ry defend­ing your friend­ship with the guy who co-rans the Dai­ly Stormer to spruce up one’s resume...assuming you’re apply­ing for a job at Bre­it­bart. But that might be a bit to far for the New York Times.

    And yet, as the arti­cle notes, Nor­ton was far from alone in not just defend­ing Auern­heimer when he was fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion for hack­ing AT&T (and that legit­i­mate­ly was over­ly harsh pros­e­cu­tion) but defend­ing him while remain­ing friends despite the hor­rif­ic Nazi views he open­ly stands for:

    ...
    Lots of us have friends, acquain­tances, and rel­a­tives with opin­ions that are con­tro­ver­sial yet not so vile we need to eject them from our lives. Out­right Nazism is some­thing else. So how could a self-described “queer-activist” with pro­gres­sive bona fides and an appar­ent ded­i­ca­tion to out­ing abu­sive fig­ures in the tech indus­try be friends with a Nazi? For one thing, as Nor­ton explained, she some­times tried to speak the lan­guage of some of the more out­ré com­mu­ni­ties she cov­ered, like Anons and trolls. Friend can mean a lot of dif­fer­ent things, and her motives in speak­ing with Weev may have been admirable, if pos­si­bly mis­guid­ed. But when you look back at the his­to­ry of the inter­net free­dom com­mu­ni­ty with which she asso­ci­at­ed, her embrace of Weev fits into an ugly pat­tern. She was part of a com­mu­ni­ty that sup­port­ed Weev and his right to free expres­sion, often while fail­ing to denounce his val­ues and every­thing his white nation­al­ism, sex­ism, and anti-Semi­tism stood for. Any­one who thinks seri­ous­ly about the web—and hires peo­ple to cov­er it—ought to reck­on with why.
    ...

    Now, it’s not that Nor­ton nev­er crit­i­cizes Auern­heimer’s views. It’s that she appears to still be friends and talk with him despite the fact that he real­ly is a lead­ing neo-Nazi who real­ly does call for mass mur­der. Which, again, is some­thing that goes far beyond Nor­ton:

    ...
    Some back­ground: In Octo­ber, Nor­ton remind­ed her fol­low­ers that “Weev is a ter­ri­ble per­son, & an old friend of mine,” as she wrote in one of the tweets that sur­faced Tues­day night. “I’ve been very clear on this. Some of my friend are ter­ri­ble peo­ple, & also my friends.” Weev has said that Jew­ish chil­dren “deserve to die,” encour­aged death threats against his targets—often Jew­ish peo­ple and women—and released their address­es and con­tact infor­ma­tion onto the inter­net, caus­ing them to be so flood­ed with hate speech and threats of vio­lence that some fled their homes. Yet Nor­ton still found val­ue in the friend­ship. “Weev doesn’t talk to me much any­more, but we talk about the racism when­ev­er he does,” Nor­ton explained in a tweet Tues­day night. She explained that her “door is open when he, or any­one, wants to talk” and clar­i­fied that she would always make their con­ver­sa­tions “about the stu­pid­i­ty of racism” when they did get a chance to catch up.

    That Nor­ton would keep her door open to a man who harms lives does not make her an out­lier with­in parts of the hack­er and dig­i­tal rights com­mu­ni­ty, which took up arms to defend Weev in 2010 after he worked with a team to expose a hole in AT&T’s secu­ri­ty sys­tem that allowed the email address­es of about 114,000 iPad own­ers to be revealed—which he then shared with jour­nal­ists. For that, Weev was sen­tenced to three years in jail for iden­ti­ty fraud and access­ing a com­put­er with­out the prop­er autho­riza­tion. Despite being known as a par­tic­u­lar­ly ter­ri­fy­ing inter­net troll and anti-Semi­te, the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (where I used to work), cel­e­brat­ed tech­nol­o­gy law pro­fes­sor Orin Kerr, and oth­ers in the inter­net free­dom com­mu­ni­ty came to Weev’s defense, argu­ing that when a secu­ri­ty researcher finds a hole in a company’s sys­tem, it doesn’t mean the hack­ing was mali­cious and deserv­ing of pros­e­cu­tion. They were right. Out­side secu­ri­ty researchers should be able to find and dis­close vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in order to keep every­one else safe with­out break­ing a law.

    But the broad­er hack­er com­mu­ni­ty didn’t defend Weev on the mer­its of this par­tic­u­lar case while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly denounc­ing his hate­ful views. Instead it lion­ized him in keep­ing with its oppo­si­tion to dra­con­ian com­put­er crime laws. Artist Mol­ly Crabap­ple paint­ed a por­trait of Weev. There was a “Free Weev” web­site; the slo­gan was print­ed on T‑shirts. The charges were even­tu­al­ly over­turned 28 months before the end of Weev’s sen­tence, and when a jour­nal­ist accom­pa­nied his lawyer to pick Weev up from prison, he report­ed­ly blast­ed a white pow­er song on the dri­ve home. Dur­ing and after his impris­on­ment, Weev and Nor­ton kept in touch.
    ...

    “But the broad­er hack­er com­mu­ni­ty didn’t defend Weev on the mer­its of this par­tic­u­lar case while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly denounc­ing his hate­ful views. Instead it lion­ized him in keep­ing with its oppo­si­tion to dra­con­ian com­put­er crime laws.”

    And that is the much big­ger sto­ry in the sto­ry of the Quinn Nor­ton’s 1/2 day as a New York Times tech­nol­o­gy colum­nist: with­in much of dig­i­tal pri­va­cy com­mu­ni­ty, Nor­ton’s accep­tance of Auern­heimer despite his open aggres­sive neo-Nazi views isn’t the excep­tion. It’s the rule.

    There was unfor­tu­nate­ly not men­tion in the arti­cle about how Auern­heimer par­tied with Glenn Green­wald and Lau­ra Poitras in 2014 after his release from prison (when he was already sport­ing a giant swasti­ka on his chest). Nei­ther was there any men­tion of the fact that Auerne­heimer appears to have been involved with both ‘Macron hacks’ in France’s elec­tions last year and pos­si­bly the DNC hacks. But the arti­cle does make the impor­tant point that the sto­ry of Quinn Nor­ton’s fir­ing is real­ly just a sub-sto­ry in the much larg­er sto­ry of remark­ably wide­spread pop­u­lar­i­ty of Andrew ‘weev’ Auern­heimer with­in the tech and dig­i­tal pri­va­cy com­mu­ni­ties and the roles he may have played in some of the biggest hacks of our times. And the sto­ry of tech’s ‘Nazi friend’ is, itself, just a sub-sto­ry in the much larg­er sto­ry of how per­va­sive far-right ideals and assump­tions are in all sorts of tech sec­tors and tech­nolo­gies, whether it’s Bit­coin, the Cypher­punk move­men­t’s exten­sive his­to­ry of far-right thought, or the fas­cist roots behind Wik­ileaks. Hope­ful­ly the New York Times’s next pick for tech colum­nist will actu­al­ly address these top­ics.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 14, 2018, 3:33 pm
  2. Here’s anoth­er exam­ple of how the lib­er­tar­i­an dream of inter­net plat­forms that are so secure that the com­pa­nies them­selves can’t even mon­i­tor what’s tak­ing place on them turn out to be far-right mis­in­for­ma­tion dream plat­forms: What­sApp — the Face­book-owned mes­sag­ing plat­form that uses end-to-end strong encryp­tion so, in the­o­ry, no one can crack the mes­sages and no one, includ­ing What­sApps, can mon­i­tor on the plat­form is used — is wild­ly pop­u­lar in Brazil. 120 mil­lion of the coun­try’s 200 mil­lion peo­ple use the app as many of them use it as their pri­ma­ry news source.

    So what kind of news are peo­ple get­ting on What­sApp? Well, we don’t real­ly know because it can’t be mon­i­tored. But we do get a hint of the kind of news peo­ple are get­ting on encrypt­ed ser­vices like What­sApp when those sto­ries spreads to oth­er plat­forms like Face­book or Youtube. And with Brazil fac­ing an explo­sion of yel­low fever and strug­gling to get peo­ple vac­ci­nat­ed we got a par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty hint of the kind of ‘news’ peo­ple are get­ting on What­sApp: dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sion­al­ly pro­duced videos telling peo­ple an Alex Jones-style mes­sage that the yel­low fever vac­cine cam­paign is part of a secret gov­ern­ment depop­u­la­tion scheme. That’s the kind of ‘news’ peo­ple in Brazil are get­ting from What­sApp. At least, that’s the ‘news’ we know about so far since the full con­tent in an encrypt­ed mys­tery:

    Wired

    When What­sAp­p’s Fake News Prob­lem Threat­ens Pub­lic Health

    Megan Molteni
    03.09.18 03:14 pm

    In remote areas of Brazil’s Ama­zon basin, yel­low fever used to be a rare, if reg­u­lar vis­i­tor. Every six to ten years, dur­ing the hot sea­son, mos­qui­toes would pick it up from infect­ed mon­keys and spread it to a few log­gers, hunters, and farm­ers at the forests’ edges in the north­west­ern part of the coun­try. But in 2016, per­haps dri­ven by cli­mate change or defor­esta­tion or both, the dead­ly virus broke its pat­tern.

    Yel­low fever began expand­ing south, even through the win­ter months, infect­ing more than 1,500 peo­ple and killing near­ly 500. The mos­qui­to-borne virus attacks the liv­er, caus­ing its sig­na­ture jaun­dice and inter­nal hem­or­rhag­ing (the Mayans called it xekik, or “blood vom­it”). Today, that pesti­lence is rac­ing toward Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo at the rate of more than a mile a day, turn­ing Brazil’s coastal megac­i­ties into mega-tick­ing-time­bombs. The only thing spread­ing faster is mis­in­for­ma­tion about the dan­gers of a yel­low fever vaccine—the very thing that could halt the virus’s advance. And nowhere is it hap­pen­ing faster than on What­sApp.

    In recent weeks, rumors of fatal vac­cine reac­tions, mer­cury preser­v­a­tives, and gov­ern­ment con­spir­a­cies have sur­faced with alarm­ing speed on the Face­book-owned encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing ser­vice, which is used by 120 mil­lion of Brazil’s rough­ly 200 mil­lion res­i­dents. The plat­form has long incu­bat­ed and pro­lif­er­at­ed fake news, in Brazil in par­tic­u­lar. With its mod­est data require­ments, What­sApp is espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar among mid­dle and low­er income indi­vid­u­als there, many of whom rely on it as their pri­ma­ry news con­sump­tion plat­form. But as the country’s health author­i­ties scram­ble to con­tain the worst out­break in decades, WhatsApp’s mis­in­for­ma­tion trade threat­ens to go from desta­bi­liz­ing to dead­ly.

    On Jan­u­ary 25, Brazil­ian health offi­cials launched a mass cam­paign to vac­ci­nate 95 per­cent of res­i­dents in the 69 munic­i­pal­i­ties direct­ly in the disease’s path—a total of 23 mil­lion peo­ple. A yel­low fever vac­cine has been manda­to­ry since 2002 for any Brazil­ian born in regions where the virus is endem­ic. But in the last two years the dis­ease has pushed beyond its nor­mal range into ter­ri­to­ries where few­er than a quar­ter of peo­ple are immune, includ­ing the urban areas of Rio and Sao Paulo.

    By the time of the announce­ment, the fake news cycle was already under­way. Ear­li­er in the month an audio mes­sage from a woman claim­ing to be a doc­tor at a well-known research insti­tute began cir­cu­lat­ing on What­sApp, warn­ing that the vac­cine is dan­ger­ous. (The insti­tute denied that the record­ing came from any of its employ­ees). A few weeks lat­er it was a sto­ry link­ing the death of a uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent to the vac­cine. (That too proved to be a false report). In Feb­ru­ary, Igor Sacramento’s moth­er-in-law mes­saged him a pair of videos sug­gest­ing that the yel­low fever vac­cine was actu­al­ly a scam aimed at reduc­ing the world pop­u­la­tion. A health com­mu­ni­ca­tion researcher at Fiocruz, one of Brazil’s largest sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tions, Sacra­men­to rec­og­nized a scam when he saw one. And no, it wasn’t a glob­al illu­mi­nati plot to kill off his coun­try­men. But he could under­stand why peo­ple would be tak­en in by it.

    “These videos are very sophis­ti­cat­ed, with good edit­ing, tes­ti­mo­ni­als from experts, and per­son­al expe­ri­ences,” Sacra­men­to says. It’s the same jour­nal­is­tic for­mat peo­ple see on TV, so it bears the shape of truth. And when peo­ple share these videos or news sto­ries with­in their social net­works as per­son­al mes­sages, it changes the cal­cu­lus of trust. “We are tran­si­tion­ing from a soci­ety that expe­ri­enced truth based on facts to a soci­ety based on its expe­ri­ence of truth in inti­ma­cy, in emo­tion, in close­ness.”

    Peo­ple are more like­ly to believe rumours from fam­i­ly and friends. There’s no algo­rithm medi­at­ing the expe­ri­ence. And when that mis­in­for­ma­tion comes in the form of for­ward­ed texts and videos—which look the same as per­son­al mes­sages in WhatsApp—they’re lent anoth­er lay­er of legit­i­ma­cy. Then you get the net­work com­pound­ing effect; if you’re in mul­ti­ple group chats that all receive the fake news, the rep­e­ti­tion makes them more believ­able still.

    Of course, these are all just the­o­ries. Because of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryp­tion and the closed nature of its net­works, it’s near­ly impos­si­ble to study how mis­in­for­ma­tion moves through it. For users in coun­tries with a his­to­ry of state-spon­sored vio­lence, like Brazil, that secre­cy is a fea­ture. But it’s a bug for any­one try­ing to study them. “I think What­sApp hoax­es and dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are a bit more per­ni­cious [than Face­book] because their dif­fu­sion can­not be mon­i­tored,” says Pablo Ortel­la­do, a fake news researcher and pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­i­cy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sao Paulo. Mis­in­for­ma­tion on What­sApp can only be iden­ti­fied when it jumps to oth­er social media sites or bleeds into the real world.

    In Brazil, it’s start­ing to do both. One of the videos Sacra­men­to received from his moth­er-in-law is still up on YouTube, where it’s been viewed over a mil­lion times. Oth­er sto­ries cir­cu­lat­ed on What­sApp are now being shared in Face­book groups with thou­sands of users, most­ly wor­ried moth­ers exchang­ing sto­ries and fears. And in the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo, some peo­ple are stay­ing away from the health work­ers in white coats. As of Feb­ru­ary 27, only 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple had received the shot, though it’s dif­fi­cult to say how much of the slow start is due to fake news as opposed to logis­ti­cal delays. A spokes­woman for the Brazil­ian Min­istry of Health said in an email that the agency has seen an uptick in con­cern from res­i­dents regard­ing post-vac­ci­na­tion adverse events since the start of the year and acknowl­edged that the spread of false news through social media can inter­fere with vac­ci­na­tion cov­er­age, but did not com­ment on its spe­cif­ic impact on this lat­est cam­paign.

    ...

    While the Min­istry of Health has engaged in a very active pro-vac­cine edu­ca­tion operation—publishing week­ly newslet­ters, post­ing on social media, and get­ting peo­ple on the ground at church­es, tem­ples, trade unions, and clinics—health com­mu­ni­ca­tion researchers like Sacra­men­to say health offi­cials made one glar­ing mis­take. They didn’t pay close enough atten­tion to lan­guage.

    You see, on top of all this, there’s a glob­al yel­low fever vac­cine short­age going on at the moment. The vac­cine is avail­able at a lim­it­ed num­ber of clin­ics in the US, but it’s only used here as a trav­el shot. So far this year, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has reg­is­tered no cas­es of the virus with­in US bor­ders, though in light of the out­break it did issue a Lev­el 2 trav­el notice in Jan­u­ary, urg­ing all Amer­i­cans trav­el­ing to the affect­ed states in Brazil to get vac­ci­nat­ed first.

    Because it’s endem­ic in the coun­try, Brazil makes its own vac­cine, and is cur­rent­ly ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion from 5 mil­lion to 10 mil­lion dos­es per month by June. But in the inter­im, author­i­ties are admin­is­ter­ing small­er dos­es of what they have on hand, known as a “frac­tion­al dose.” It’s a well-demon­strat­ed emer­gency maneu­ver, which staved off a yel­low fever out­break in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of the Con­go in 2016. Accord­ing to the WHO, it’s “the best way to stretch vac­cine sup­plies and pro­tect against as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.” But a par­tial dose, one that’s guar­an­teed for only 12 months, has been met by mis­trust in Brazil, where a sin­gle vac­ci­na­tion had always been good for a life­time of pro­tec­tion.

    “The pop­u­la­tion in gen­er­al under­stood the word­ing of ‘frac­tion­at­ed’ to mean weak,” says Sacra­men­to. Although tech­ni­cal­ly cor­rect, the word took on a more sin­is­ter mean­ing as it spread through social media cir­cles. Some videos even claimed the frac­tion­at­ed vac­cine could cause renal fail­ure. And while they may be unsci­en­tif­ic, they’re not com­plete­ly wrong.

    Like any med­i­cine, the yel­low fever vac­cine can cause side effects. Between 2 and 4 per­cent of peo­ple expe­ri­ence mild headaches, low-grade fevers, or pain at the site of injec­tion. But there have also been rare reports of life-threat­en­ing aller­gic reac­tions and dam­age to the ner­vous sys­tem and oth­er inter­nal organs. Accord­ing to the Health Min­istry, six peo­ple died in 2017 on account of an adverse reac­tion to the vac­cine. The agency esti­mates that one in 76,000 will have an ana­phy­lac­tic reac­tion, one in 125,000 will expe­ri­ence a severe ner­vous sys­tem reac­tion, and one in 250,000 will suf­fer a life-threat­en­ing ill­ness with organ fail­ure. Which means that if 5 mil­lion peo­ple get vac­ci­nat­ed, you’ll wind up with about 20 organ fail­ures, 50 ner­vous sys­tem issues, and 70 aller­gic shocks. Of course, if yel­low fever infect­ed 5 mil­lion peo­ple, 333,000 peo­ple could die.

    Not every fake news sto­ry is 100 per­cent false. But they are out of pro­por­tion with real­i­ty. That’s the thing about social media. It can ampli­fy real but sta­tis­ti­cal­ly unlike­ly things just as much as it spreads total­ly made up stuff. What you wind up with is a murky mix of infor­ma­tion that has just enough truth to be cred­i­ble.

    And that makes it a whole lot hard­er to fight. You can’t just start by shout­ing it all down. Sacra­men­to says too often health offi­cials opt to frame these rumors as a dichoto­my: “Is this true or is this a myth?” That alien­ates peo­ple from the sci­ence. Instead, the insti­tu­tion where he works has begun to pro­duce social media-spe­cif­ic videos that start a dia­logue about the impor­tance of vac­cines, while remain­ing open to people’s fears. “Brazil is a coun­try full of social inequal­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions,” he says. “The only way to under­stand what is hap­pen­ing is to talk to peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from you.” Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that’s the one thing What­sApp is designed not to let you do.

    ———-

    “When What­sAp­p’s Fake News Prob­lem Threat­ens Pub­lic Health” by Megan Molteni; Wired; 03/09/2018

    “Yel­low fever began expand­ing south, even through the win­ter months, infect­ing more than 1,500 peo­ple and killing near­ly 500. The mos­qui­to-borne virus attacks the liv­er, caus­ing its sig­na­ture jaun­dice and inter­nal hem­or­rhag­ing (the Mayans called it xekik, or “blood vom­it”). Today, that pesti­lence is rac­ing toward Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo at the rate of more than a mile a day, turn­ing Brazil’s coastal megac­i­ties into mega-tick­ing-time­bombs. The only thing spread­ing faster is mis­in­for­ma­tion about the dan­gers of a yel­low fever vaccine—the very thing that could halt the virus’s advance. And nowhere is it hap­pen­ing faster than on What­sApp.

    As the say­ing goes, a lie can trav­el halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on. Espe­cial­ly in the age of the inter­net when ran­dom videos on mes­sag­ing ser­vices like What­sApp are treat­ed as reli­able news sources:

    ...
    In recent weeks, rumors of fatal vac­cine reac­tions, mer­cury preser­v­a­tives, and gov­ern­ment con­spir­a­cies have sur­faced with alarm­ing speed on the Face­book-owned encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing ser­vice, which is used by 120 mil­lion of Brazil’s rough­ly 200 mil­lion res­i­dents. The plat­form has long incu­bat­ed and pro­lif­er­at­ed fake news, in Brazil in par­tic­u­lar. With its mod­est data require­ments, What­sApp is espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar among mid­dle and low­er income indi­vid­u­als there, many of whom rely on it as their pri­ma­ry news con­sump­tion plat­form. But as the country’s health author­i­ties scram­ble to con­tain the worst out­break in decades, WhatsApp’s mis­in­for­ma­tion trade threat­ens to go from desta­bi­liz­ing to dead­ly.
    ...

    So by the time the gov­ern­ment began its big vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign to vac­ci­nate 95 per­cent of res­i­dents in vul­ner­a­ble areas, there was a fake news cam­paign about the vac­cine using pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­ty videos: fake doc­tors. Fake sto­ries of deaths from vac­cine. And the kind of pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty peo­ple expect from a news broad­cast:

    ...
    On Jan­u­ary 25, Brazil­ian health offi­cials launched a mass cam­paign to vac­ci­nate 95 per­cent of res­i­dents in the 69 munic­i­pal­i­ties direct­ly in the disease’s path—a total of 23 mil­lion peo­ple. A yel­low fever vac­cine has been manda­to­ry since 2002 for any Brazil­ian born in regions where the virus is endem­ic. But in the last two years the dis­ease has pushed beyond its nor­mal range into ter­ri­to­ries where few­er than a quar­ter of peo­ple are immune, includ­ing the urban areas of Rio and Sao Paulo.

    By the time of the announce­ment, the fake news cycle was already under­way. Ear­li­er in the month an audio mes­sage from a woman claim­ing to be a doc­tor at a well-known research insti­tute began cir­cu­lat­ing on What­sApp, warn­ing that the vac­cine is dan­ger­ous. (The insti­tute denied that the record­ing came from any of its employ­ees). A few weeks lat­er it was a sto­ry link­ing the death of a uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent to the vac­cine. (That too proved to be a false report). In Feb­ru­ary, Igor Sacramento’s moth­er-in-law mes­saged him a pair of videos sug­gest­ing that the yel­low fever vac­cine was actu­al­ly a scam aimed at reduc­ing the world pop­u­la­tion. A health com­mu­ni­ca­tion researcher at Fiocruz, one of Brazil’s largest sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tions, Sacra­men­to rec­og­nized a scam when he saw one. And no, it wasn’t a glob­al illu­mi­nati plot to kill off his coun­try­men. But he could under­stand why peo­ple would be tak­en in by it.

    “These videos are very sophis­ti­cat­ed, with good edit­ing, tes­ti­mo­ni­als from experts, and per­son­al expe­ri­ences,” Sacra­men­to says. It’s the same jour­nal­is­tic for­mat peo­ple see on TV, so it bears the shape of truth. And when peo­ple share these videos or news sto­ries with­in their social net­works as per­son­al mes­sages, it changes the cal­cu­lus of trust. “We are tran­si­tion­ing from a soci­ety that expe­ri­enced truth based on facts to a soci­ety based on its expe­ri­ence of truth in inti­ma­cy, in emo­tion, in close­ness.”
    ...

    “These videos are very sophis­ti­cat­ed, with good edit­ing, tes­ti­mo­ni­als from experts, and per­son­al expe­ri­ences,” Sacra­men­to says. It’s the same jour­nal­is­tic for­mat peo­ple see on TV, so it bears the shape of truth. And when peo­ple share these videos or news sto­ries with­in their social net­works as per­son­al mes­sages, it changes the cal­cu­lus of trust. “We are tran­si­tion­ing from a soci­ety that expe­ri­enced truth based on facts to a soci­ety based on its expe­ri­ence of truth in inti­ma­cy, in emo­tion, in close­ness.””

    So how wide­spread is the prob­lem of high qual­i­ty lit­er­al fake news con­tent get­ting prop­a­gat­ed on What­sApp? Well, again, we don’t know. Because you can’t mon­i­tor how What­sApp is used. Even the com­pa­ny can’t. It’s one of its ‘fea­tures’:

    ...
    Peo­ple are more like­ly to believe rumours from fam­i­ly and friends. There’s no algo­rithm medi­at­ing the expe­ri­ence. And when that mis­in­for­ma­tion comes in the form of for­ward­ed texts and videos—which look the same as per­son­al mes­sages in WhatsApp—they’re lent anoth­er lay­er of legit­i­ma­cy. Then you get the net­work com­pound­ing effect; if you’re in mul­ti­ple group chats that all receive the fake news, the rep­e­ti­tion makes them more believ­able still.

    Of course, these are all just the­o­ries. Because of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryp­tion and the closed nature of its net­works, it’s near­ly impos­si­ble to study how mis­in­for­ma­tion moves through it. For users in coun­tries with a his­to­ry of state-spon­sored vio­lence, like Brazil, that secre­cy is a fea­ture. But it’s a bug for any­one try­ing to study them. “I think What­sApp hoax­es and dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are a bit more per­ni­cious [than Face­book] because their dif­fu­sion can­not be mon­i­tored,” says Pablo Ortel­la­do, a fake news researcher and pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­i­cy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sao Paulo. Mis­in­for­ma­tion on What­sApp can only be iden­ti­fied when it jumps to oth­er social media sites or bleeds into the real world.
    ...

    “Of course, these are all just the­o­ries. Because of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryp­tion and the closed nature of its net­works, it’s near­ly impos­si­ble to study how mis­in­for­ma­tion moves through it.”

    Yep, we have no idea what kinds of oth­er high qual­i­ty mis­in­for­ma­tion videos are get­ting pro­duced. Of course, it’s not like there aren’t plen­ty of mis­in­for­ma­tion videos read­i­ly avail­able on Youtube and Face­book, so we do have some idea of the gen­er­al type of mis­in­for­ma­tion and far-right memes that going to flour­ish on plat­forms like What­sApp. But for a very time-sen­si­tive sto­ry, like get­ting peo­ple vac­ci­nat­ing before the killer virus turns into a pan­dem­ic, the inabil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy and com­bat dis­in­for­ma­tion like this real­ly is quite dan­ger­ous.

    It’s a reminder that if human­i­ty wants to embrace the cypher­punk rev­o­lu­tion of ubiq­ui­tous strong encryp­tion and tru­ly a anony­mous, untrack­able inter­net, human­i­ty is going to have to get a lot wis­er. Wise enough to at least have some sort of rea­son­able social immune sys­tem against mind virus­es like bogus news and far-right memes. Wise enough to iden­ti­fy and reject the many prob­lems with ide­olo­gies like dig­i­tal lib­er­tar­i­an­ism. In oth­er words, if human­i­ty wants to safe­ly embrace the cypher­punk rev­o­lu­tion, it needs to be savvy enough to reject the cypher­punk rev­o­lu­tion. It’s a bit of a para­dox and a recur­ring theme with tech­nol­o­gy and pow­er in gen­er­al: if you want this pow­er with­out destroy­ing your­self you’re just going to have to be wise enough to use that pow­er very care­ful­ly or just reject it out­right, col­lec­tive­ly and indi­vid­u­al­ly.

    But for now, we have lit­er­al fake news videos push­ing anti-vac­cine mis­in­for­ma­tion qui­et­ly ‘going viral’ on encrypt­ed social media in order to pro­mote the spread of a dead­ly bio­log­i­cal virus. It seems like a mile­stone of self-destruc­tive behav­ior was just reached by human­i­ty. It was a group effort. Go team.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 12, 2018, 10:46 am
  3. A great new book is out on the his­to­ry of the Inter­net Sur­veil­lance Val­ley by Yasha Levine. Here is a link to a long inter­view
    http://mediaroots.org/surveillance-valley-the-secret-military-history-of-the-internet-with-yasha-levine/

    Posted by Hugo Turner | March 23, 2018, 11:37 am
  4. Here’s a quick update on the devel­op­ment of the ‘deep­fake’ tech­nol­o­gy that can cre­ate real­is­ti­cal­ly look­ing videos of any­one say­ing any­thing: accord­ing to experts, it should be advanced enough to cause major prob­lems for things like polit­i­cal elec­tions in a cou­ple years. So if you were won­der­ing what kind of ‘fake news’ night­mare is in store for the US 2020 elec­tion, it’s going to be the kind of night­mare that includes one fake video after anoth­er that looks com­plete­ly real:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    I nev­er said that! High-tech decep­tion of ‘deep­fake’ videos

    By DEB RIECHMANN
    07/02/2018

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Hey, did my con­gress­man real­ly say that? Is that real­ly Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on that video, or am I being duped?

    New tech­nol­o­gy on the inter­net lets any­one make videos of real peo­ple appear­ing to say things they’ve nev­er said. Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats pre­dict this high-tech way of putting words in someone’s mouth will become the lat­est weapon in dis­in­for­ma­tion wars against the Unit­ed States and oth­er West­ern democ­ra­cies.

    We’re not talk­ing about lip-sync­ing videos. This tech­nol­o­gy uses facial map­ping and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to pro­duce videos that appear so gen­uine it’s hard to spot the phonies. Law­mak­ers and intel­li­gence offi­cials wor­ry that the bogus videos — called deep­fakes — could be used to threat­en nation­al secu­ri­ty or inter­fere in elec­tions.

    So far, that hasn’t hap­pened, but experts say it’s not a ques­tion of if, but when.

    “I expect that here in the Unit­ed States we will start to see this con­tent in the upcom­ing midterms and nation­al elec­tion two years from now,” said Hany Farid, a dig­i­tal foren­sics expert at Dart­mouth Col­lege in Hanover, New Hamp­shire. “The tech­nol­o­gy, of course, knows no bor­ders, so I expect the impact to rip­ple around the globe.”

    When an aver­age per­son can cre­ate a real­is­tic fake video of the pres­i­dent say­ing any­thing they want, Farid said, “we have entered a new world where it is going to be dif­fi­cult to know how to believe what we see.” The reverse is a con­cern, too. Peo­ple may dis­miss as fake gen­uine footage, say of a real atroc­i­ty, to score polit­i­cal points.

    Real­iz­ing the impli­ca­tions of the tech­nol­o­gy, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is already two years into a four-year pro­gram to devel­op tech­nolo­gies that can detect fake images and videos. Right now, it takes exten­sive analy­sis to iden­ti­fy pho­ny videos. It’s unclear if new ways to authen­ti­cate images or detect fakes will keep pace with deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy.

    Deep­fakes are so named because they uti­lize deep learn­ing, a form of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. They are made by feed­ing a com­put­er an algo­rithm, or set of instruc­tions, lots of images and audio of a cer­tain per­son. The com­put­er pro­gram learns how to mim­ic the person’s facial expres­sions, man­ner­isms, voice and inflec­tions. If you have enough video and audio of some­one, you can com­bine a fake video of the per­son with a fake audio and get them to say any­thing you want.

    So far, deep­fakes have most­ly been used to smear celebri­ties or as gags, but it’s easy to fore­see a nation state using them for nefar­i­ous activ­i­ties against the U.S., said Sen. Mar­co Rubio, R‑Fla., one of sev­er­al mem­bers of the Sen­ate intel­li­gence com­mit­tee who are express­ing con­cern about deep­fakes.

    A for­eign intel­li­gence agency could use the tech­nol­o­gy to pro­duce a fake video of an Amer­i­can politi­cian using a racial epi­thet or tak­ing a bribe, Rubio says. They could use a fake video of a U.S. sol­dier mas­sacring civil­ians over­seas, or one of a U.S. offi­cial sup­pos­ed­ly admit­ting a secret plan to car­ry out a con­spir­a­cy. Imag­ine a fake video of a U.S. leader — or an offi­cial from North Korea or Iran — warn­ing the Unit­ed States of an impend­ing dis­as­ter.

    “It’s a weapon that could be used — timed appro­pri­ate­ly and placed appro­pri­ate­ly — in the same way fake news is used, except in a video form, which could cre­ate real chaos and insta­bil­i­ty on the eve of an elec­tion or a major deci­sion of any sort,” Rubio told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press.

    Deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy still has a few hitch­es. For instance, people’s blink­ing in fake videos may appear unnat­ur­al. But the tech­nol­o­gy is improv­ing.

    With­in a year or two, it’s going to be real­ly hard for a per­son to dis­tin­guish between a real video and a fake video,” said Andrew Grot­to, an inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty fel­low at the Cen­ter for Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty and Coop­er­a­tion at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty in Cal­i­for­nia.

    “This tech­nol­o­gy, I think, will be irre­sistible for nation states to use in dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns to manip­u­late pub­lic opin­ion, deceive pop­u­la­tions and under­mine con­fi­dence in our insti­tu­tions,” Grot­to said. He called for gov­ern­ment lead­ers and politi­cians to clear­ly say it has no place in civ­i­lized polit­i­cal debate.

    ...

    Rubio not­ed that in 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow com­plained to the Russ­ian For­eign Min­istry about a fake sex video it said was made to dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of a U.S. diplo­mat. The video showed the mar­ried diplo­mat, who was a liai­son to Russ­ian reli­gious and human rights groups, mak­ing tele­phone calls on a dark street. The video then showed the diplo­mat in his hotel room, scenes that appar­ent­ly were shot with a hid­den cam­era. Lat­er, the video appeared to show a man and a woman hav­ing sex in the same room with the lights off, although it was not at all clear that the man was the diplo­mat.

    John Beyr­le, who was the U.S. ambas­sador in Moscow at the time, blamed the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment for the video, which he said was clear­ly fab­ri­cat­ed.

    Michael McFaul, who was Amer­i­can ambas­sador in Rus­sia between 2012 and 2014, said Rus­sia has engaged in dis­in­for­ma­tion videos against var­i­ous polit­i­cal actors for years and that he too had been a tar­get. He has said that Russ­ian state pro­pa­gan­da insert­ed his face into pho­tographs and “spliced my speech­es to make me say things I nev­er uttered and even accused me of pedophil­ia.”

    ———-

    “I nev­er said that! High-tech decep­tion of ‘deep­fake’ videos” by DEB RIECHMANN; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 07/02/2018

    “I expect that here in the Unit­ed States we will start to see this con­tent in the upcom­ing midterms and nation­al elec­tion two years from now,” said Hany Farid, a dig­i­tal foren­sics expert at Dart­mouth Col­lege in Hanover, New Hamp­shire. “The tech­nol­o­gy, of course, knows no bor­ders, so I expect the impact to rip­ple around the globe.””

    Yep, the way Hany Farid, a dig­i­tal foren­sics expert at Dart­mouth Col­lege, sees it, we might even see ‘deep­fakes’ impact the US midterms this year. The tech­nol­o­gy is basi­cal­ly ready to go.

    And while DARPA is report­ed­ly already work­ing on tech­niques for iden­ti­fy­ing fake images and videos, it’s still unclear if even an agency like DARPA will be able to keep up with advances in the tech­nol­o­gy. In oth­er words, even after detec­tion tech­nol­o­gy has been devel­oped there’s still ALWAYS going to be the poten­tial for cut­ting edge ‘deep­fakes’ that can fool that detec­tion tech­nol­o­gy. It’s just part of our tech­no­log­i­cal land­scape:

    ...
    Real­iz­ing the impli­ca­tions of the tech­nol­o­gy, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is already two years into a four-year pro­gram to devel­op tech­nolo­gies that can detect fake images and videos. Right now, it takes exten­sive analy­sis to iden­ti­fy pho­ny videos. It’s unclear if new ways to authen­ti­cate images or detect fakes will keep pace with deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy.

    Deep­fakes are so named because they uti­lize deep learn­ing, a form of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. They are made by feed­ing a com­put­er an algo­rithm, or set of instruc­tions, lots of images and audio of a cer­tain per­son. The com­put­er pro­gram learns how to mim­ic the person’s facial expres­sions, man­ner­isms, voice and inflec­tions. If you have enough video and audio of some­one, you can com­bine a fake video of the per­son with a fake audio and get them to say any­thing you want.

    ...

    Deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy still has a few hitch­es. For instance, people’s blink­ing in fake videos may appear unnat­ur­al. But the tech­nol­o­gy is improv­ing.

    With­in a year or two, it’s going to be real­ly hard for a per­son to dis­tin­guish between a real video and a fake video,” said Andrew Grot­to, an inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty fel­low at the Cen­ter for Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty and Coop­er­a­tion at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty in Cal­i­for­nia.

    “This tech­nol­o­gy, I think, will be irre­sistible for nation states to use in dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns to manip­u­late pub­lic opin­ion, deceive pop­u­la­tions and under­mine con­fi­dence in our insti­tu­tions,” Grot­to said. He called for gov­ern­ment lead­ers and politi­cians to clear­ly say it has no place in civ­i­lized polit­i­cal debate.
    ...

    And while we’re guar­an­teed that any deep­fakes intro­duced into the US elec­tions will almost reflex­ive­ly be blamed on Rus­sia, the real­i­ty is that any intel­li­gence agency on the plan­et (even pri­vate intel­li­gence agen­cies) are going to be extreme­ly tempt­ed to devel­op these kinds of videos for pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es. And the 4Chan trolls and Alt Right are going to be invest­ing mas­sive amounts of time and ener­gy into this, if they aren’t already. The list of sus­pects is inher­ent­ly going to be mas­sive:

    ...
    So far, deep­fakes have most­ly been used to smear celebri­ties or as gags, but it’s easy to fore­see a nation state using them for nefar­i­ous activ­i­ties against the U.S., said Sen. Mar­co Rubio, R‑Fla., one of sev­er­al mem­bers of the Sen­ate intel­li­gence com­mit­tee who are express­ing con­cern about deep­fakes.

    A for­eign intel­li­gence agency could use the tech­nol­o­gy to pro­duce a fake video of an Amer­i­can politi­cian using a racial epi­thet or tak­ing a bribe, Rubio says. They could use a fake video of a U.S. sol­dier mas­sacring civil­ians over­seas, or one of a U.S. offi­cial sup­pos­ed­ly admit­ting a secret plan to car­ry out a con­spir­a­cy. Imag­ine a fake video of a U.S. leader — or an offi­cial from North Korea or Iran — warn­ing the Unit­ed States of an impend­ing dis­as­ter.

    “It’s a weapon that could be used — timed appro­pri­ate­ly and placed appro­pri­ate­ly — in the same way fake news is used, except in a video form, which could cre­ate real chaos and insta­bil­i­ty on the eve of an elec­tion or a major deci­sion of any sort,” Rubio told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press.
    ...

    Final­ly, let’s not for­get about one of the more bizarre poten­tial con­se­quences of the emer­gence of deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy: it’s going to be make eas­i­er than ever for Repub­li­cans to decry ‘fake news!’ when they are con­front­ed with a true but polit­i­cal incon­ve­nient sto­ry. Remem­ber when Trump’s ambas­sador to the Nether­lands, Pete Hoek­stra, cried ‘fake news!’ when shown a video of his own com­ments? Well, that’s going to be a very com­mon thing going for­ward. So when the inevitable mon­tages of Trump say­ing one hor­ri­ble thing after enough get rolled out for vot­ers 2020, it’s going to be eas­i­er than ever for peo­ple to dis­miss it as ‘fake news!’:

    ...
    When an aver­age per­son can cre­ate a real­is­tic fake video of the pres­i­dent say­ing any­thing they want, Farid said, “we have entered a new world where it is going to be dif­fi­cult to know how to believe what we see.” The reverse is a con­cern, too. Peo­ple may dis­miss as fake gen­uine footage, say of a real atroc­i­ty, to score polit­i­cal points.
    ...

    Wel­come to the world were you real­ly can’t believe your lying eyes. Except when you can and should.

    So how will human­i­ty han­dle a world where any ran­dom troll can cre­ate con­vinc­ing fake videos? Well, based on our track record with how we han­dle oth­er sources of infor­ma­tion that can poten­tial­ly be faked and requires a degree of wis­dom and dis­cern­ment to nav­i­gate, not well. Not well at all.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 3, 2018, 2:47 pm
  5. Here’s the lat­est reminder that when the ‘deep­fake’ video tech­nol­o­gy devel­ops to the point of being indis­tin­guish­able from real videos the far right is going to go into over­drive cre­at­ing videos pur­port­ing to prove vir­tu­al­ly every far right fan­ta­sy you can imag­ine. Espe­cial­ly the ‘Piz­za­Gate’ con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry pushed by the right wing in the final weeks of the 2016 alleg­ing that Hillary Clin­ton and num­ber of oth­er promi­nent Democ­rats are part of a Satanist child abuse ring:

    Far right crack­pot ‘jour­nal­ist’ Liz Crokin is repeat­ing her asser­tions that video of Hillary Clin­ton — specif­i­cal­ly, Hillary sex­u­al­ly abus­ing a child and then cut­ting their face off and eat­ing it — is float­ing around on the Dark Web is, accord­ing to her sources, is def­i­nite­ly real. And now Crokin warns that reports about ‘deep­fake’ tech­nol­o­gy are just dis­in­for­ma­tion sto­ries being pre­emp­tive­ly put out by the Deep State to make the pub­lic skep­ti­cal when the videos of Hillary cut­ting the face off of a child come to light:

    Right Wing Watch

    Liz Crokin: Trump Con­firmed The Exis­tence Of A Video Show­ing Hilary Clin­ton Tor­tur­ing A Child

    By Kyle Manty­la
    July 12, 2018 2:00 pm

    Right-wing “jour­nal­ist” Liz Crokin appeared on Sheila Zilinsky’s pod­cast ear­li­er this week, where the two unhinged con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists dis­cussed Crokin’s asser­tion that a video exists show­ing Hillary Clin­ton sex­u­al­ly abus­ing and tor­tur­ing a child.

    “I under­stand that there is a video cir­cu­lat­ing on the dark web of [Clin­ton] eat­ing the face of a child,” Zilin­sky said. “Does this video exist?”

    “Yes,” respond­ed Crokin. “There are videos that prove that Hillary Clin­ton is involved in child sex traf­fick­ing and pedophil­ia. I have sources that have told me that; I trust these sources, so there is evi­dence that exists that proves that she is involved in this stuff … I believe with all my heart that this is true.”

    After claim­ing that “the deep state” tar­get­ed for­mer White House nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Michael Fly­nn for destruc­tion because he and his son “were expos­ing Piz­za­gate,” Crokin insist­ed that media reports warn­ing about the abil­i­ty to use mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate fake videos that make it appear as if famous peo­ple are say­ing or doing things are secret­ly a part of an effort to pre­pare the pub­lic to dis­miss the Clin­ton video when it is final­ly released.

    “Based off of what lies they report, I can tell what they’re afraid of, I can tell what’s real­ly going on behind the scenes,” she said. “So the fact that they are say­ing, ‘Oh, if a tape comes out involv­ing Hillary or Oba­ma doing like a sex act or x, y, z, it’s fake news,’ that tells me that there are tapes that incrim­i­nate Oba­ma and Hillary.”

    As fur­ther proof that such tapes exist, Crokin repeat­ed her claim that Pres­i­dent Trump’s tweet of a link to a fringe right-wing con­spir­a­cy web­site that fea­tured a video of her dis­cussing this sup­posed Clin­ton tape was con­fir­ma­tion of the verac­i­ty of her claims.

    “When Pres­i­dent Trump retweet­ed MAGA Pill, MAGA Pill’s tweet was my video talk­ing about Hillary Clinton’s sex tape,” she insist­ed. “I know Pres­i­dent Trump, I’ve met him, I’ve stud­ied him, I’ve report­ed on him … I’ve known him and of him and report­ed on him for a very long time. I under­stand how his brain works, I under­stand how he thinks, I under­stand ‘The Art of War,’ his favorite book, I under­stand this man. And I know that Pres­i­dent Trump—there’s no way that he didn’t know when he retweet­ed MAGA Pill that my video talk­ing about Hillary Clinton’s sex tape was MAGA Pill’s pinned tweet. There is no way that Pres­i­dent Trump didn’t know that.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Liz Crokin: Trump Con­firmed The Exis­tence Of A Video Show­ing Hilary Clin­ton Tor­tur­ing A Child” by Kyle Manty­la; Right Wing Watch; 07/12/2018

    ““I under­stand that there is a video cir­cu­lat­ing on the dark web of [Clin­ton] eat­ing the face of a child,” Zilin­sky said. “Does this video exist?””

    Wel­come to our dystopi­an near-future. Does video of [insert hor­ror sce­nario here] actu­al­ly exist? Oh yes, we will be assured, it’s def­i­nite­ly total­ly real and you can total­ly trust my source!

    ...
    “Yes,” respond­ed Crokin. “There are videos that prove that Hillary Clin­ton is involved in child sex traf­fick­ing and pedophil­ia. I have sources that have told me that; I trust these sources, so there is evi­dence that exists that proves that she is involved in this stuff … I believe with all my heart that this is true.”
    ...

    And some­day, with advances in deep­fake video tech­nol­o­gy and spe­cial effects they might actu­al­ly pro­duce such a video. It’s real­ly just a mat­ter of time, and at this point we have to just hope that they use spe­cial effects to fake a child hav­ing their face cut off and eat­en and don’t actu­al­ly do that to a kid (you nev­er know when you’re deal­ing with Nazis and their fel­low trav­el­ers).

    Crokin then went on to insist that the var­i­ous news arti­cles warn­ing about the advances in deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy were all part of a secret effort to pro­tect Hillary when the video is final­ly released:

    ...
    After claim­ing that “the deep state” tar­get­ed for­mer White House nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Michael Fly­nn for destruc­tion because he and his son “were expos­ing Piz­za­gate,” Crokin insist­ed that media reports warn­ing about the abil­i­ty to use mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate fake videos that make it appear as if famous peo­ple are say­ing or doing things are secret­ly a part of an effort to pre­pare the pub­lic to dis­miss the Clin­ton video when it is final­ly released.

    “Based off of what lies they report, I can tell what they’re afraid of, I can tell what’s real­ly going on behind the scenes,” she said. “So the fact that they are say­ing, ‘Oh, if a tape comes out involv­ing Hillary or Oba­ma doing like a sex act or x, y, z, it’s fake news,’ that tells me that there are tapes that incrim­i­nate Oba­ma and Hillary.”
    ...

    And as fur­ther evi­dence of her claims, Crokin points to Pres­i­dent Trump retweet­ing a tweet to a web­site fea­tur­ing a video of Crokin dis­cussing this alleged Hillary-child-face-eat­ing video:

    ...
    As fur­ther proof that such tapes exist, Crokin repeat­ed her claim that Pres­i­dent Trump’s tweet of a link to a fringe right-wing con­spir­a­cy web­site that fea­tured a video of her dis­cussing this sup­posed Clin­ton tape was con­fir­ma­tion of the verac­i­ty of her claims.

    “When Pres­i­dent Trump retweet­ed MAGA Pill, MAGA Pill’s tweet was my video talk­ing about Hillary Clinton’s sex tape,” she insist­ed. “I know Pres­i­dent Trump, I’ve met him, I’ve stud­ied him, I’ve report­ed on him … I’ve known him and of him and report­ed on him for a very long time. I under­stand how his brain works, I under­stand how he thinks, I under­stand ‘The Art of War,’ his favorite book, I under­stand this man. And I know that Pres­i­dent Trump—there’s no way that he didn’t know when he retweet­ed MAGA Pill that my video talk­ing about Hillary Clinton’s sex tape was MAGA Pill’s pinned tweet. There is no way that Pres­i­dent Trump didn’t know that.”
    ...

    Yep, the pres­i­dent is pro­mot­ing this lady. And that, right there, sum­ma­rizes the next stage of Amer­i­ca’s night­mare descent into neo-Nazi fan­tasies that’s just around the cor­ner (not to men­tion the impact on the rest of the world).

    Of course, the denials that deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy exist will start get­ting rather amus­ing after peo­ple use that same tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate deep­fakes of Trump, Crokin, and any­one else in the pub­lic eye (since you need lots of videos of some­one to make the tech­nol­o­gy work).

    Also keep in mind that Crokin claims the child-face-eat­ing video is mere­ly one of the videos of Hillary Clin­ton float­ing around. There are many videos of Hillary that Crokin claims to be aware of. So when the child-face-eat­ing video emerges, it’s prob­a­bly going to just be a pre­view of what’s to come:

    Right Wing Watch

    Liz Crokin Claims That She Knows ‘One Hun­dred Per­cent’ That ‘A Video Of Hillary Clin­ton Sex­u­al­ly Abus­ing A Child Exists’

    By Kyle Manty­la | April 13, 2018 1:07 pm

    Fringe right-wing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ris Liz Crokin post­ed a video on YouTube last night in which she declared that a grue­some video show­ing Hillary Clin­ton cut­ting the face off of a liv­ing child exists and will soon be released for all the world to see.

    “I know with absolute cer­tain­ty that there is a tape that exists that involves Hillary Clin­ton sex­u­al­ly abus­ing a child,” Crokin said. “I have got­ten this con­firmed from very respectable and high-lev­el sources.”

    Crokin said that reports that Russ­ian-linked accounts post­ed a fake Clin­ton sex tape dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion are false, say­ing that no such fake video exists and that the sto­ries about it are sim­ply an effort to con­fuse the pub­lic “so when and if the actu­al video of Hillary Clin­ton sex­u­al­ly abus­ing a child comes out, the seeds of doubt are already plant­ed in people’s heads.”

    “All I know is that, one hun­dred per­cent, a video of Hillary Clin­ton sex­u­al­ly abus­ing a child exists,” she said. “I know there’s many videos incrim­i­nat­ing her, I just don’t know which one they are going to release. But there are peo­ple, there are claims that this sex­u­al abuse video is on the dark web and I know that some peo­ple have seen it, some in law enforce­ment, the NYPD law enforce­ment, some NYPD offi­cers have seen it and it made them sick, it made them cry, it made them vom­it, some of them had to seek psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing after this.”

    “I’m not going to go into too much detail because it’s so dis­gust­ing, but in this video, they cut off a child’s face as the child is alive,” Crokin claimed. “I’m just going to leave it at that.”

    ———-

    “Liz Crokin Claims That She Knows ‘One Hun­dred Per­cent’ That ‘A Video Of Hillary Clin­ton Sex­u­al­ly Abus­ing A Child Exists’” by Kyle Manty­la; Right Wing Watch; 04/13/2018

    “I’m not going to go into too much detail because it’s so dis­gust­ing, but in this video, they cut off a child’s face as the child is alive...I’m just going to leave it at that.”

    The child was alive when Hillary cut its face off and ate it after sex­u­al­ly abus­ing it. That’s what Crokin has spent months assur­ing her audi­ence is a real thing and Don­ald Trump appears to be pro­mot­ing her. Of course.

    And that’s just one of the alleged Hillary-as-beyond-evil-witch videos Crokin claims to cer­tain­ty is real and in pos­ses­sion of some law enforce­ment offi­cials (this is what the whole ‘QAnon’ obses­sion on the right is about):

    ...
    “All I know is that, one hun­dred per­cent, a video of Hillary Clin­ton sex­u­al­ly abus­ing a child exists,” she said. “I know there’s many videos incrim­i­nat­ing her, I just don’t know which one they are going to release. But there are peo­ple, there are claims that this sex­u­al abuse video is on the dark web and I know that some peo­ple have seen it, some in law enforce­ment, the NYPD law enforce­ment, some NYPD offi­cers have seen it and it made them sick, it made them cry, it made them vom­it, some of them had to seek psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing after this.”
    ...

    Also notice how Crokin acts like she does­n’t want to go into the details, and yet gives all sorts of details that hint as some­thing so hor­rif­ic that the alleged NYPD offi­cers who have seen the video need­ed psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing. And that points towards one of the oth­er aspects of this loom­ing night­mare phase of Amer­i­can’s intel­lec­tu­al descent: the flood of far right fake videos that are going to be pro­duced are prob­a­bly going to be designed to psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly trau­ma­tize the view­er. The glob­al pub­lic is about to be exposed to one torture/murder/porn video of famous peo­ple after anoth­er because if you’re try­ing to impact you’re audi­ence visu­al­ly trau­ma­tiz­ing them is an effec­tive way to do it.

    It’s no acci­dent that much of the far right con­spir­a­cy cul­ture has a fix­a­tion on child sex crimes. Yes, some of that fix­a­tion is due to real cas­es or elite pro­tect­ed child abuse, like ‘The Franklin cov­er-up’ or Jim­my Sav­ile and the pro­found moral grav­i­ty of such crimes if real orga­nized elite sex abuse rings actu­al­ly exist. The vis­cer­al revul­sion of crimes of this nature make them inher­ent­ly impact­ful. But in the right-wing con­spir­a­cy world­view pedophil­ia tends to play a cen­tral role (as any­one famil­iar with Alex Jones can attest to). Crokin is mere­ly one exam­ple of that.

    And that’s exact­ly why we should expect these slew of fake videos that are inevitably going to be pro­duced in droves for polit­i­cal gain to involve images that tru­ly psy­cho­log­i­cal scar the view­er. It’s just more impact­ful that way.

    So whether you’re a fan of Hillary Clin­ton or loath her, get ready to have her seared in your mem­o­ry for­ev­er. Prob­a­bly eat­ing the face of a child or some­thing like that.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 13, 2018, 2:39 pm
  6. If you did­n’t think access to a gun could get much eas­i­er in Amer­i­ca, it’s time to rethink that propo­si­tion: Start­ing on August 1st, it will be legal to dis­trib­ute instruc­tions over the inter­net for cre­ate 3D print­able guns accord­ing to US law. Recall how 3D print­able guns were first devel­oped in 2013 by far right cryp­to-anar­chist Cody Wil­son, the guy also behind the untrace­able Bit­coin Dark Wal­let and Hatre­on, a crowd­sourc­ing fundrais­ing plat­form for neo-Nazis and oth­er peo­ple who got kicked off of Patre­on.

    Wil­son first put instruc­tions for 3D print­able guns online back in 2013, but the US State Depart­ment forced him to take it down, argu­ing it amount to export­ing weapons. Wil­son sued and the case has been stuck in courts. Flash for­ward to April of 2018, and the US gov­ern­ment sud­den­ly decid­ed to reverse course and drop its law­suit. A set­tle­ment was reached and August 1 was declared the day 3D print­able gun instruc­tions will flood the inter­net.

    So it looks like the cypher­punk approach of using tech­nol­o­gy to get around polit­i­cal real­i­ties you don’t like is about to be applied to gun con­trol laws, with untrace­able guns for poten­tial­ly any­one as one of the imme­di­ate con­se­quences:

    Quartz

    The age of 3D-print­ed guns in Amer­i­ca is here

    Han­na Kozlows­ka
    July 28, 2018

    A last-ditch effort to block a US orga­ni­za­tion from mak­ing instruc­tions to 3D-print a gun avail­able to down­load has failed. The tem­plate will be post­ed online on Wednes­day (Aug. 1).

    From then, any­one with access to a 3D print­er will be able to cre­ate their own firearm out of the same kind of mate­r­i­al that’s used for Lego blocks. The guns are untrace­able, and require no back­ground check to make or own.

    “The age of the down­load­able gun for­mal­ly begins,” states the web­site of Defense Dis­trib­uted, the non-prof­it defense firm that has fought for years to make this “age” pos­si­ble.

    In April, Defense Dis­trib­uted reached a set­tle­ment with the US State Depart­ment in a fed­er­al law­suit that allowed pub­lish­ing the plans on print­ing a gun to pro­ceed, which took effect in June. On July 26, gun-con­trol advo­cates asked a fed­er­al court in Texas to block the deci­sion, but the judge decid­ed not to inter­vene. Law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton also tried in the past week to mobi­lize against the devel­op­ment, but it’s like­ly all too late (pay­wall).

    The first of this kind of gun—designed by the founder of Defense Dis­trib­uted Cody Wil­son, a self-described cryp­to-anar­chist—was “The Lib­er­a­tor,” a sin­gle shot pis­tol, which had a met­al part that made it com­pli­ant with a US gun-detec­tion law. When the plans were first released in 2013, Wil­son claimed they were down­loaded more than 100,000 times in the first cou­ple of days. Short­ly there­after, the gov­ern­ment said the enter­prise was ille­gal.

    ...

    Defense Dis­trib­uted sued the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in 2015 after it was blocked from pub­lish­ing the 3D-print­ing plans online. With the April 2018 set­tle­ment, the gov­ern­ment reversed its posi­tion. David Chip­man, for­mer agent at the Bureau of Alco­hol, Tobac­co, Firearms, and Explo­sives (ATF) and cur­rent advis­er to Gif­fords, a gun con­trol orga­ni­za­tion run by for­mer con­gress­woman Gab­by Gif­fords (who was infa­mous­ly shot in the head), blames the about-face on the change in pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tions.

    The deci­sion means that peo­ple who can’t pass a stan­dard back­ground check “like ter­ror­ists, con­vict­ed felons, and domes­tic abusers” will be able to print out a gun with­out a ser­i­al num­ber, Chip­man wrote in a blog post.. “This could have severe reper­cus­sions a decade from now if we allow weapons of this kind to mul­ti­ply.”

    ———-

    “The age of 3D-print­ed guns in Amer­i­ca is here” by Han­na Kozlows­ka; Quartz; 07/28/2018

    “A last-ditch effort to block a US orga­ni­za­tion from mak­ing instruc­tions to 3D-print a gun avail­able to down­load has failed. The tem­plate will be post­ed online on Wednes­day (Aug. 1).”

    In just a cop­ule more days, any­one with access to a 3D print will be able to cre­ate as many untrace­able guns as they desire. This is thanks to a set­tle­ment reached in April by Cody Wilson’s com­pa­ny, Defense Dis­trib­uted, and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment:

    ...
    From then, any­one with access to a 3D print­er will be able to cre­ate their own firearm out of the same kind of mate­r­i­al that’s used for Lego blocks. The guns are untrace­able, and require no back­ground check to make or own.

    “The age of the down­load­able gun for­mal­ly begins,” states the web­site of Defense Dis­trib­uted, the non-prof­it defense firm that has fought for years to make this “age” pos­si­ble.

    In April, Defense Dis­trib­uted reached a set­tle­ment with the US State Depart­ment in a fed­er­al law­suit that allowed pub­lish­ing the plans on print­ing a gun to pro­ceed, which took effect in June. On July 26, gun-con­trol advo­cates asked a fed­er­al court in Texas to block the deci­sion, but the judge decid­ed not to inter­vene. Law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton also tried in the past week to mobi­lize against the devel­op­ment, but it’s like­ly all too late (pay­wall).

    The first of this kind of gun—designed by the founder of Defense Dis­trib­uted Cody Wil­son, a self-described cryp­to-anar­chist—was “The Lib­er­a­tor,” a sin­gle shot pis­tol, which had a met­al part that made it com­pli­ant with a US gun-detec­tion law. When the plans were first released in 2013, Wil­son claimed they were down­loaded more than 100,000 times in the first cou­ple of days. Short­ly there­after, the gov­ern­ment said the enter­prise was ille­gal.
    ...

    So why exact­ly did the US gov­ern­ment sud­den­ly drop the law­suit in April and pave the way for the dis­tri­b­u­tion of 3D print­ed gun instruc­tions? Well, the answer appears to be that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion want­ed the case dropped. At least that’s how gun con­trol advo­cates inter­pret­ed it:

    ...
    Defense Dis­trib­uted sued the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in 2015 after it was blocked from pub­lish­ing the 3D-print­ing plans online. With the April 2018 set­tle­ment, the gov­ern­ment reversed its posi­tion. David Chip­man, for­mer agent at the Bureau of Alco­hol, Tobac­co, Firearms, and Explo­sives (ATF) and cur­rent advis­er to Gif­fords, a gun con­trol orga­ni­za­tion run by for­mer con­gress­woman Gab­by Gif­fords (who was infa­mous­ly shot in the head), blames the about-face on the change in pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tions.

    The deci­sion means that peo­ple who can’t pass a stan­dard back­ground check “like ter­ror­ists, con­vict­ed felons, and domes­tic abusers” will be able to print out a gun with­out a ser­i­al num­ber, Chip­man wrote in a blog post.. “This could have severe reper­cus­sions a decade from now if we allow weapons of this kind to mul­ti­ply.”
    ...

    Although, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, it appears that one of the rea­sons for the change in the fed­er­al gov­ern­men­t’s atti­tude towards the case may have been due to a desire to change the cur­rent export laws regard­ing the export of guns in gen­er­al that US gun man­u­fac­tur­ers have long want­ed. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion pro­posed revis­ing and stream­lin­ing the process for export­ing con­sumer firearms and relat­ed tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion, includ­ing tuto­ri­als for 3D print­ed guns. The rule change would also shift juris­dic­tion of some items from the State Depart­ment to the Com­merce Depart­ment (don’t for­get that it was the State Depart­ment that imposed the ini­tial injunc­tion on the dis­tri­b­u­tion of 3D instruc­tions). So it sounds like the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s move to legal­ize the dis­tri­b­u­tion of 3D print­able gun instruc­tions may have been part of a broad­er effort to export more guns in gen­er­al:

    The New York Times

    ‘Down­load­able Gun’ Clears a Legal Obsta­cle, and Activists Are Alarmed

    By Tiffany Hsu and Alan Feuer
    July 13, 2018

    Learn­ing to make a so-called ghost gun — an untrace­able, unreg­is­tered firearm with­out a ser­i­al num­ber — could soon become much eas­i­er.

    The Unit­ed States last month agreed to allow a Texas man to dis­trib­ute online instruc­tion man­u­als for a pis­tol that could be made by any­one with access to a 3‑D print­er. The man, Cody Wil­son, had sued the gov­ern­ment after the State Depart­ment forced him to take down the instruc­tions because they vio­lat­ed export laws.

    Mr. Wil­son, who is well known in anar­chist and gun-rights com­mu­ni­ties, com­plained that his right to free speech was being sti­fled and that he was shar­ing com­put­er code, not actu­al guns.

    The case was set­tled on June 29, and Mr. Wil­son gave The New York Times a copy of the agree­ment this week. The set­tle­ment states that 3‑D print­ing tuto­ri­als are approved “for pub­lic release (i.e. unlim­it­ed dis­tri­b­u­tion) in any form.”

    The gov­ern­ment also agreed to pay near­ly $40,000 of Mr. Wilson’s legal fees.

    The will­ing­ness to resolve the case — after the gov­ern­ment had won some low­er court judg­ments — has raised alarms among gun-con­trol advo­cates, who said it would make it eas­i­er for felons and oth­ers to get firearms. Some crit­ics said it sug­gest­ed close ties between the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and gun-own­er­ship advo­cates, this week fil­ing requests for doc­u­ments that might explain why the gov­ern­ment agreed to set­tle.

    The admin­is­tra­tion “capit­u­lat­ed in a case it had won at every step of the way,” said J. Adam Skag­gs, the chief coun­sel for the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vio­lence. “This isn’t a case where the under­ly­ing facts of the law changed. The only thing that changed was the admin­is­tra­tion.”

    Mr. Wilson’s orga­ni­za­tion, Defense Dis­trib­uted, will repost its online guides on Aug. 1, when “the age of the down­load­able gun for­mal­ly begins,” accord­ing to its web­site. The files will include plans to make a vari­ety of firearms using 3‑D print­ers, includ­ing for AR-15-style rifles, which have been used in sev­er­al mass shoot­ings.

    Mr. Wil­son said the set­tle­ment would allow gun­mak­ing enthu­si­asts to come out from the shad­ows. Copies of his plans have cir­cu­lat­ed on the so-called dark web since his site went down.

    “I can see how it would attract more peo­ple and maybe lessen the tac­tic of hav­ing to hide your iden­ti­ty,” Mr. Wil­son said of the set­tle­ment in an inter­view. “It’s not a huge space right now, but I do know that it’s only going to accel­er­ate things.”

    But as the “land­mark set­tle­ment” brings ghost gun instruc­tions out into the open, it could also give felons and domes­tic abusers access to firearms that back­ground checks would oth­er­wise block them from own­ing, said Adam Win­kler, a law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Ange­les.

    “The cur­rent laws are already dif­fi­cult to enforce — they’re his­tor­i­cal­ly not espe­cial­ly pow­er­ful, and they’re rid­dled with loop­holes — and this will just make those laws eas­i­er to evade,” Mr. Win­kler said. “It not only allows this tech to flour­ish out of the under­ground but gives it legal sanc­tion.”

    Some saw the set­tle­ment as proof that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion want­ed to fur­ther dereg­u­late the gun indus­try and increase access to firearms. This year, the admin­is­tra­tion pro­posed a rule change that would revise and stream­line the process for export­ing con­sumer firearms and relat­ed tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion, includ­ing tuto­ri­als for 3‑D print­ed designs.

    The change, long sought by firearms man­u­fac­tur­ers, would shift juris­dic­tion of cer­tain items from the State Depart­ment to the Com­merce Depart­ment, which uses a sim­pler licens­ing pro­ce­dure for exports.

    On Thurs­day and Fri­day, the Brady Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vio­lence filed requests under the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act for any doc­u­ments show­ing how the gov­ern­ment decid­ed on the set­tle­ment over print­able firearms, and whether orga­ni­za­tions like the Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion or the Nation­al Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion were involved.

    Nei­ther trade group com­ment­ed for this arti­cle, but some gun advo­cates said Mr. Trump has been less help­ful toward the firearms indus­try than he had sug­gest­ed he would be.

    Mr. Wil­son also said that “there has not been a pro-gun streak” under Mr. Trump’s Jus­tice Depart­ment, though he praised the nom­i­na­tion of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who is seen as a cham­pi­on of Sec­ond Amend­ment rights, to the Supreme Court.

    “Trump will go to the N.R.A. and be like, ‘I’m your great­est friend,’ but unfor­tu­nate­ly his D.O.J. has fought gun cas­es tooth and nail in the courts,” he said.

    Mr. Wil­son clashed with the gov­ern­ment in 2013 after he suc­cess­ful­ly print­ed a most­ly plas­tic hand­gun — a tech-focused twist on a long­stand­ing and gen­er­al­ly legal tra­di­tion of do-it-your­self gun­mak­ing that has includ­ed AR-15 craft­ing par­ties in enthu­si­asts’ garages. His cre­ation inspired Philadel­phia to pass leg­is­la­tion ban­ning the use of 3‑D print­ers to man­u­fac­ture firearms.

    After Mr. Wil­son post­ed online blue­prints for the gun, they were down­loaded more than 100,000 times with­in a few days, and lat­er appeared on oth­er web­sites and file-shar­ing ser­vices.

    The State Depart­ment quick­ly caught wind of the files and demand­ed that Mr. Wil­son remove them, say­ing that they vio­lat­ed export reg­u­la­tions deal­ing with sen­si­tive mil­i­tary hard­ware and tech­nol­o­gy.

    Mr. Wil­son capit­u­lat­ed, and after two years paired up with the Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion to file his law­suit. A Fed­er­al Dis­trict Court judge denied his request for a pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion against the State Depart­ment, a deci­sion that an appel­late court upheld. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

    In a state­ment, the State Depart­ment said the set­tle­ment with Mr. Wil­son was vol­un­tary and “entered into fol­low­ing nego­ti­a­tions,” adding that “the court did not rule in favor of the plain­tiffs in this case.”

    To raise mon­ey for his legal defense, he said, he sold milling machines that can read dig­i­tal design files and stamp out met­al gun parts. Pro­ceeds from the so-called Ghost Gun­ner machines, which cost $1,675 each, are used to run his orga­ni­za­tion, he said.

    Ghost guns, by their nature, are dif­fi­cult to track.

    Guns man­u­fac­tured for sale fea­ture a ser­i­al num­ber on the receiv­er, which hous­es the fir­ing mech­a­nism. But unfin­ished frames known as “80 per­cent” receivers can be eas­i­ly pur­chased, com­plet­ed with machin­ery like the Ghost Gun­ner and then com­bined with the remain­ing parts of the firearm, which are read­i­ly avail­able online and at gun shows.

    ...

    But with the gov­ern­ment adjust­ing the export rules that first sparked the case, Mr. Wil­son will be able to freely pub­lish blue­prints for 3‑D print­ers, said Alan M. Got­tlieb, the founder of the Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion, in a state­ment.

    “Not only is this a First Amend­ment vic­to­ry for free speech,” he said, “it also is a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the gun pro­hi­bi­tion lob­by.”

    ———-

    “Learn­ing to make a so-called ghost gun — an untrace­able, unreg­is­tered firearm with­out a ser­i­al num­ber — could soon become much eas­i­er.”

    DIY untrace­able firearms. That’s about to be a thing and the US gov­ern­ment legal­ly sanc­tioned it. And that sud­den change of heart, com­bined with the legal vic­to­ries the gov­ern­ment pre­vi­ous­ly enjoyed on this case, is what left so many gun con­trol advo­cates assum­ing that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion decid­ed to pro­mote 3D print­able gun:

    ...
    The gov­ern­ment also agreed to pay near­ly $40,000 of Mr. Wilson’s legal fees.

    The will­ing­ness to resolve the case — after the gov­ern­ment had won some low­er court judg­ments — has raised alarms among gun-con­trol advo­cates, who said it would make it eas­i­er for felons and oth­ers to get firearms. Some crit­ics said it sug­gest­ed close ties between the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and gun-own­er­ship advo­cates, this week fil­ing requests for doc­u­ments that might explain why the gov­ern­ment agreed to set­tle.

    The admin­is­tra­tion “capit­u­lat­ed in a case it had won at every step of the way,” said J. Adam Skag­gs, the chief coun­sel for the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vio­lence. “This isn’t a case where the under­ly­ing facts of the law changed. The only thing that changed was the admin­is­tra­tion.”
    ...

    And note how a Fed­er­al Dis­trict Court judge had denied Wilson’s request for a pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion against the State Depart­ment, a deci­sion that an appel­late court upheld. And the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. And the state Depart­ment issued a state­ment about how Wil­son vol­un­tary “entered into fol­low­ing nego­ti­a­tions,” and that “the court did not rule in favor of the plain­tiffs in this case.” That sure does­n’t sound like a gov­ern­ment that was on the verge of los­ing its case:

    ...
    The State Depart­ment quick­ly caught wind of the files and demand­ed that Mr. Wil­son remove them, say­ing that they vio­lat­ed export reg­u­la­tions deal­ing with sen­si­tive mil­i­tary hard­ware and tech­nol­o­gy.

    Mr. Wil­son capit­u­lat­ed, and after two years paired up with the Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion to file his law­suit. A Fed­er­al Dis­trict Court judge denied his request for a pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion against the State Depart­ment, a deci­sion that an appel­late court upheld. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

    In a state­ment, the State Depart­ment said the set­tle­ment with Mr. Wil­son was vol­un­tary and “entered into fol­low­ing nego­ti­a­tions,” adding that “the court did not rule in favor of the plain­tiffs in this case.”
    ...

    But that appar­ent desire by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to pro­mote 3D print­able guns might be less a reflec­tion of a spe­cif­ic desire to pro­mote 3D print­able guns and more a reflec­tion of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s desire to pro­mote gun exports in gen­er­al:

    ...
    Some saw the set­tle­ment as proof that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion want­ed to fur­ther dereg­u­late the gun indus­try and increase access to firearms. This year, the admin­is­tra­tion pro­posed a rule change that would revise and stream­line the process for export­ing con­sumer firearms and relat­ed tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion, includ­ing tuto­ri­als for 3‑D print­ed designs.

    The change, long sought by firearms man­u­fac­tur­ers, would shift juris­dic­tion of cer­tain items from the State Depart­ment to the Com­merce Depart­ment, which uses a sim­pler licens­ing pro­ce­dure for exports.
    ...

    Regard­less, we are just a cou­ple days away from 3D print­able gun instruc­tions legal­ly being dis­trib­uted online. And it’s not just the 1‑shot pis­tols. It’s going to include AR-15-style rifles:

    ...
    Mr. Wilson’s orga­ni­za­tion, Defense Dis­trib­uted, will repost its online guides on Aug. 1, when “the age of the down­load­able gun for­mal­ly begins,” accord­ing to its web­site. The files will include plans to make a vari­ety of firearms using 3‑D print­ers, includ­ing for AR-15-style rifles, which have been used in sev­er­al mass shoot­ings.

    Mr. Wil­son said the set­tle­ment would allow gun­mak­ing enthu­si­asts to come out from the shad­ows. Copies of his plans have cir­cu­lat­ed on the so-called dark web since his site went down.
    ...

    And this prob­a­bly also mean Wil­son is going to be sell­ing a lot more of those gun milling machines that allow any­one to cre­ate the met­al com­po­nents of their untrace­able Ghost Guns:

    ...
    To raise mon­ey for his legal defense, he said, he sold milling machines that can read dig­i­tal design files and stamp out met­al gun parts. Pro­ceeds from the so-called Ghost Gun­ner machines, which cost $1,675 each, are used to run his orga­ni­za­tion, he said.

    Ghost guns, by their nature, are dif­fi­cult to track.

    Guns man­u­fac­tured for sale fea­ture a ser­i­al num­ber on the receiv­er, which hous­es the fir­ing mech­a­nism. But unfin­ished frames known as “80 per­cent” receivers can be eas­i­ly pur­chased, com­plet­ed with machin­ery like the Ghost Gun­ner and then com­bined with the remain­ing parts of the firearm, which are read­i­ly avail­able online and at gun shows.
    ...

    And keep in mind that, while this is a sto­ry about a US legal case, it’s effec­tive­ly a glob­al sto­ry. There’s undoubt­ed­ly going to be an explo­sion of 3D blue­prints for pret­ty much any tool of vio­lence one can imag­ine and it’s going to be acces­si­ble to any­one with an inter­net con­nec­tion. They won’t need to go scour­ing the Dark Web or find­ing some illic­it 3D print­er instruc­tions deal­er. They’ll just go to one of the many web­sites that will be brim­ming with a grow­ing library of all sorts of 3D print­able sophis­ti­cat­ed weapon­ry.

    So now we get to watch this grim exper­i­ment unfold. And who knows, it might actu­al­ly reduce US gun exports by pre­emp­tive­ly export mar­kets with guns. Because why pay for an expen­sive import­ed gun when you can just print a cheap one?

    More gen­er­al­ly, what’s going to hap­pen when as 3D print­able guns become a thing acces­si­ble to every cor­ner of the globe? What kinds con­flicts might pop up that sim­ply would­n’t have been pos­si­ble before? Because we’re long famil­iar with con­flicts fueled by large num­bers of small arms flood­ing into a coun­try, but some­one has to be will­ing to sup­ply those arms. There’s gen­er­al­ly some sort of state spon­sor for con­flicts. What hap­pens when any ran­dom group or move­ment can effec­tive­ly arm them­selves? Is human­i­ty going to get even more vio­lent as the cost of guns plum­mets and acces­si­bil­i­ty explodes? Prob­a­bly. We’ll be col­lec­tive­ly con­firm­ing that soon.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 30, 2018, 3:43 pm
  7. Remem­ber that report from Novem­ber 2017, about how Google’s Android smart­phones are secret­ly gath­er­ing sur­pris­ing­ly pre­cise loca­tion infor­ma­tion from smart phones even when peo­ple turn of “Loca­tion ser­vices” using infor­ma­tion gath­ered from cell tow­ers? Well, here’s a fol­low up report on that: Google claims it changed that pol­i­cy, but it’s some­how still col­lect­ing very pre­cise loca­tion data from Android phones and iPhones (if you use Google’s apps) even when you turn off “loca­tion ser­vices” (sur­prise!):

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    AP Exclu­sive: Google tracks your move­ments, like it or not

    By RYAN NAKASHIMA
    08/15/2018

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google wants to know where you go so bad­ly that it records your move­ments even when you explic­it­ly tell it not to.

    An Asso­ci­at­ed Press inves­ti­ga­tion found that many Google ser­vices on Android devices and iPhones store your loca­tion data even if you’ve used a pri­va­cy set­ting that says it will pre­vent Google from doing so.

    Com­put­er-sci­ence researchers at Prince­ton con­firmed these find­ings at the AP’s request.

    For the most part, Google is upfront about ask­ing per­mis­sion to use your loca­tion infor­ma­tion. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to loca­tion if you use it for nav­i­gat­ing. If you agree to let it record your loca­tion over time, Google Maps will dis­play that his­to­ry for you in a “time­line” that maps out your dai­ly move­ments.

    Stor­ing your minute-by-minute trav­els car­ries pri­va­cy risks and has been used by police to deter­mine the loca­tion of sus­pects — such as a war­rant that police in Raleigh, North Car­oli­na, served on Google last year to find devices near a mur­der scene. So the com­pa­ny lets you “pause” a set­ting called Loca­tion His­to­ry.

    Google says that will pre­vent the com­pa­ny from remem­ber­ing where you’ve been. Google’s sup­port page on the sub­ject states: “You can turn off Loca­tion His­to­ry at any time. With Loca­tion His­to­ry off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

    That isn’t true. Even with Loca­tion His­to­ry paused, some Google apps auto­mat­i­cal­ly store time-stamped loca­tion data with­out ask­ing. (It’s pos­si­ble, although labo­ri­ous, to delete it .)

    For exam­ple, Google stores a snap­shot of where you are when you mere­ly open its Maps app. Auto­mat­ic dai­ly weath­er updates on Android phones pin­point rough­ly where you are. And some search­es that have noth­ing to do with loca­tion, like “choco­late chip cook­ies,” or “kids sci­ence kits,” pin­point your pre­cise lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude — accu­rate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account.

    The pri­va­cy issue affects some two bil­lion users of devices that run Google’s Android oper­at­ing soft­ware and hun­dreds of mil­lions of world­wide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.

    Stor­ing loca­tion data in vio­la­tion of a user’s pref­er­ences is wrong, said Jonathan May­er, a Prince­ton com­put­er sci­en­tist and for­mer chief tech­nol­o­gist for the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Commission’s enforce­ment bureau. A researcher from Mayer’s lab con­firmed the AP’s find­ings on mul­ti­ple Android devices; the AP con­duct­ed its own tests on sev­er­al iPhones that found the same behav­ior.

    “If you’re going to allow users to turn off some­thing called ‘Loca­tion His­to­ry,’ then all the places where you main­tain loca­tion his­to­ry should be turned off,” May­er said. “That seems like a pret­ty straight­for­ward posi­tion to have.”

    Google says it is being per­fect­ly clear.

    “There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways that Google may use loca­tion to improve people’s expe­ri­ence, includ­ing: Loca­tion His­to­ry, Web and App Activ­i­ty, and through device-lev­el Loca­tion Ser­vices,” a Google spokesper­son said in a state­ment to the AP. “We pro­vide clear descrip­tions of these tools, and robust con­trols so peo­ple can turn them on or off, and delete their his­to­ries at any time.”

    Google’s expla­na­tion did not con­vince sev­er­al law­mak­ers.

    Sen. Mark Warn­er of Vir­ginia told the AP it is “frus­trat­ing­ly com­mon” for tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies “to have cor­po­rate prac­tices that diverge wild­ly from the total­ly rea­son­able expec­ta­tions of their users,” and urged poli­cies that would give users more con­trol of their data. Rep. Frank Pal­lone of New Jer­sey called for “com­pre­hen­sive con­sumer pri­va­cy and data secu­ri­ty leg­is­la­tion” in the wake of the AP report.

    To stop Google from sav­ing these loca­tion mark­ers, the com­pa­ny says, users can turn off anoth­er set­ting, one that does not specif­i­cal­ly ref­er­ence loca­tion infor­ma­tion. Called “Web and App Activ­i­ty” and enabled by default, that set­ting stores a vari­ety of infor­ma­tion from Google apps and web­sites to your Google account.

    When paused, it will pre­vent activ­i­ty on any device from being saved to your account. But leav­ing “Web & App Activ­i­ty” on and turn­ing “Loca­tion His­to­ry” off only pre­vents Google from adding your move­ments to the “time­line,” its visu­al­iza­tion of your dai­ly trav­els. It does not stop Google’s col­lec­tion of oth­er loca­tion mark­ers.

    You can delete these loca­tion mark­ers by hand, but it’s a painstak­ing process since you have to select them indi­vid­u­al­ly, unless you want to delete all of your stored activ­i­ty.

    You can see the stored loca­tion mark­ers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com, although they’re typ­i­cal­ly scat­tered under sev­er­al dif­fer­ent head­ers, many of which are unre­lat­ed to loca­tion.

    To demon­strate how pow­er­ful these oth­er mark­ers can be, the AP cre­at­ed a visu­al map of the move­ments of Prince­ton post­doc­tor­al researcher Gunes Acar, who car­ried an Android phone with Loca­tion his­to­ry off, and shared a record of his Google account.

    The map includes Acar’s train com­mute on two trips to New York and vis­its to The High Line park, Chelsea Mar­ket, Hell’s Kitchen, Cen­tral Park and Harlem. To pro­tect his pri­va­cy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and fre­quent mark­er — his home address.

    Huge tech com­pa­nies are under increas­ing scruti­ny over their data prac­tices, fol­low­ing a series of pri­va­cy scan­dals at Face­book and new data-pri­va­cy rules recent­ly adopt­ed by the Euro­pean Union. Last year, the busi­ness news site Quartz found that Google was track­ing Android users by col­lect­ing the address­es of near­by cell­phone tow­ers even if all loca­tion ser­vices were off. Google changed the prac­tice and insist­ed it nev­er record­ed the data any­way.

    Crit­ics say Google’s insis­tence on track­ing its users’ loca­tions stems from its dri­ve to boost adver­tis­ing rev­enue.

    “They build adver­tis­ing infor­ma­tion out of data,” said Peter Lenz, the senior geospa­tial ana­lyst at Dstillery, a rival adver­tis­ing tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny. “More data for them pre­sum­ably means more prof­it.”

    The AP learned of the issue from K. Shankari, a grad­u­ate researcher at UC Berke­ley who stud­ies the com­mut­ing pat­terns of vol­un­teers in order to help urban plan­ners. She noticed that her Android phone prompt­ed her to rate a shop­ping trip to Kohl’s, even though she had turned Loca­tion His­to­ry off.

    “So how did Google Maps know where I was?” she asked in a blog post .

    The AP wasn’t able to recre­ate Shankari’s expe­ri­ence exact­ly. But its attempts to do so revealed Google’s track­ing. The find­ings dis­turbed her.

    “I am not opposed to back­ground loca­tion track­ing in prin­ci­ple,” she said. “It just real­ly both­ers me that it is not explic­it­ly stat­ed.”

    Google offers a more accu­rate descrip­tion of how Loca­tion His­to­ry actu­al­ly works in a place you’d only see if you turn it off — a pop­up that appears when you “pause” Loca­tion His­to­ry on your Google account web­page . There the com­pa­ny notes that “some loca­tion data may be saved as part of your activ­i­ty on oth­er Google ser­vices, like Search and Maps.”

    Google offers addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion in a pop­up that appears if you re-acti­vate the “Web & App Activ­i­ty” set­ting — an uncom­mon action for many users, since this set­ting is on by default. That pop­up states that, when active, the set­ting “saves the things you do on Google sites, apps, and ser­vices ... and asso­ci­at­ed infor­ma­tion, like loca­tion.”

    Warn­ings when you’re about to turn Loca­tion His­to­ry off via Android and iPhone device set­tings are more dif­fi­cult to inter­pret. On Android, the pop­up explains that “places you go with your devices will stop being added to your Loca­tion His­to­ry map.” On the iPhone, it sim­ply reads, “None of your Google apps will be able to store loca­tion data in Loca­tion His­to­ry.”

    The iPhone text is tech­ni­cal­ly true if poten­tial­ly mis­lead­ing. With Loca­tion His­to­ry off, Google Maps and oth­er apps store your where­abouts in a sec­tion of your account called “My Activ­i­ty,” not “Loca­tion His­to­ry.”

    Since 2014, Google has let adver­tis­ers track the effec­tive­ness of online ads at dri­ving foot traf­fic , a fea­ture that Google has said relies on user loca­tion his­to­ries.

    The com­pa­ny is push­ing fur­ther into such loca­tion-aware track­ing to dri­ve ad rev­enue, which rose 20 per­cent last year to $95.4 bil­lion. At a Google Mar­ket­ing Live sum­mit in July, Google exec­u­tives unveiled a new tool called “local cam­paigns” that dynam­i­cal­ly uses ads to boost in-per­son store vis­its. It says it can mea­sure how well a cam­paign drove foot traf­fic with data pulled from Google users’ loca­tion his­to­ries.

    Google also says loca­tion records stored in My Activ­i­ty are used to tar­get ads. Ad buy­ers can tar­get ads to spe­cif­ic loca­tions — say, a mile radius around a par­tic­u­lar land­mark — and typ­i­cal­ly have to pay more to reach this nar­row­er audi­ence.

    While dis­abling “Web & App Activ­i­ty” will stop Google from stor­ing loca­tion mark­ers, it also pre­vents Google from stor­ing infor­ma­tion gen­er­at­ed by search­es and oth­er activ­i­ty. That can lim­it the effec­tive­ness of the Google Assis­tant, the company’s dig­i­tal concierge.

    ...

    ———-

    “AP Exclu­sive: Google tracks your move­ments, like it or not” by RYAN NAKASHIMA; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 08/15/2018

    “An Asso­ci­at­ed Press inves­ti­ga­tion found that many Google ser­vices on Android devices and iPhones store your loca­tion data even if you’ve used a pri­va­cy set­ting that says it will pre­vent Google from doing so.”

    Yes, it turns out when you turn off loca­tion ser­vices on your Android smart­phone, you’re mere­ly turn­ing off your own access to that loca­tion his­to­ry. Google will still col­lect and keep that data for its own pur­pos­es.

    And while some com­mon­ly used apps that you would expect to require loca­tion data, like Google Maps or dai­ly whether updates, auto­mat­i­cal­ly col­lect loca­tion data with­out ever ask­ing, it sounds like cer­tain search­es that should have noth­ing to do with your loca­tion also trig­ger auto­mat­ic loca­tion data. And the search-trig­gered loca­tions obtained by Google appar­ent­ly give your pre­cise lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude, accu­rate to the square foot:

    ...
    For the most part, Google is upfront about ask­ing per­mis­sion to use your loca­tion infor­ma­tion. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to loca­tion if you use it for nav­i­gat­ing. If you agree to let it record your loca­tion over time, Google Maps will dis­play that his­to­ry for you in a “time­line” that maps out your dai­ly move­ments.

    Stor­ing your minute-by-minute trav­els car­ries pri­va­cy risks and has been used by police to deter­mine the loca­tion of sus­pects — such as a war­rant that police in Raleigh, North Car­oli­na, served on Google last year to find devices near a mur­der scene. So the com­pa­ny lets you “pause” a set­ting called Loca­tion His­to­ry.

    Google says that will pre­vent the com­pa­ny from remem­ber­ing where you’ve been. Google’s sup­port page on the sub­ject states: “You can turn off Loca­tion His­to­ry at any time. With Loca­tion His­to­ry off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

    That isn’t true. Even with Loca­tion His­to­ry paused, some Google apps auto­mat­i­cal­ly store time-stamped loca­tion data with­out ask­ing. (It’s pos­si­ble, although labo­ri­ous, to delete it .)

    For exam­ple, Google stores a snap­shot of where you are when you mere­ly open its Maps app. Auto­mat­ic dai­ly weath­er updates on Android phones pin­point rough­ly where you are. And some search­es that have noth­ing to do with loca­tion, like “choco­late chip cook­ies,” or “kids sci­ence kits,” pin­point your pre­cise lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude — accu­rate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account.
    ...

    Recall that the ini­tial sto­ry from Novem­ber about Google’s using cell­phone tow­er tri­an­gu­la­tion to sur­rep­ti­tious­ly col­lect loca­tion data indi­cat­ed that this type of loca­tion data was very accu­rate and could deter­mine whether or not you stepped foot in a giv­en retail store (it was being used for loca­tion-tar­get­ed ads). So if this lat­est report indi­cates that Google can get your loca­tion down to the near­est square foot that sounds like a ref­er­ence to that cell tow­er tri­an­gu­la­tion tech­nique.

    The arti­cle goes on to ref­er­ence that report from Novem­ber, and goes on to say that “Google changed the prac­tice and insist­ed it nev­er record­ed the data any­way”. So Google appar­ent­ly admit­ted to stop­ping some­thing it says it was nev­er doing in the first place. It’s the kind of non­sense cor­po­rate response that sug­gests that this pro­gram nev­er end­ed, it was mere­ly “changed”:

    ...
    Huge tech com­pa­nies are under increas­ing scruti­ny over their data prac­tices, fol­low­ing a series of pri­va­cy scan­dals at Face­book and new data-pri­va­cy rules recent­ly adopt­ed by the Euro­pean Union. Last year, the busi­ness news site Quartz found that Google was track­ing Android users by col­lect­ing the address­es of near­by cell­phone tow­ers even if all loca­tion ser­vices were off. Google changed the prac­tice and insist­ed it nev­er record­ed the data any­way.
    ...

    And Google does indeed admit that this data is being used for loca­tion-based ad tar­get­ing, so it sure sounds like noth­ing changed at that ini­tial report in Novem­ber:

    ...
    Since 2014, Google has let adver­tis­ers track the effec­tive­ness of online ads at dri­ving foot traf­fic , a fea­ture that Google has said relies on user loca­tion his­to­ries.

    The com­pa­ny is push­ing fur­ther into such loca­tion-aware track­ing to dri­ve ad rev­enue, which rose 20 per­cent last year to $95.4 bil­lion. At a Google Mar­ket­ing Live sum­mit in July, Google exec­u­tives unveiled a new tool called “local cam­paigns” that dynam­i­cal­ly uses ads to boost in-per­son store vis­its. It says it can mea­sure how well a cam­paign drove foot traf­fic with data pulled from Google users’ loca­tion his­to­ries.

    Google also says loca­tion records stored in My Activ­i­ty are used to tar­get ads. Ad buy­ers can tar­get ads to spe­cif­ic loca­tions — say, a mile radius around a par­tic­u­lar land­mark — and typ­i­cal­ly have to pay more to reach this nar­row­er audi­ence.
    ...

    So it there any way to stop Google from col­lect­ing your loca­tion his­to­ry oth­er than using a non-Android phone with no Google apps? Well, yes, there is a way. It’s just seem­ing­ly designed to be super con­fus­ing and coun­ter­in­tu­itive:

    ...
    To stop Google from sav­ing these loca­tion mark­ers, the com­pa­ny says, users can turn off anoth­er set­ting, one that does not specif­i­cal­ly ref­er­ence loca­tion infor­ma­tion. Called “Web and App Activ­i­ty” and enabled by default, that set­ting stores a vari­ety of infor­ma­tion from Google apps and web­sites to your Google account.

    When paused, it will pre­vent activ­i­ty on any device from being saved to your account. But leav­ing “Web & App Activ­i­ty” on and turn­ing “Loca­tion His­to­ry” off only pre­vents Google from adding your move­ments to the “time­line,” its visu­al­iza­tion of your dai­ly trav­els. It does not stop Google’s col­lec­tion of oth­er loca­tion mark­ers.

    You can delete these loca­tion mark­ers by hand, but it’s a painstak­ing process since you have to select them indi­vid­u­al­ly, unless you want to delete all of your stored activ­i­ty.

    You can see the stored loca­tion mark­ers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com, although they’re typ­i­cal­ly scat­tered under sev­er­al dif­fer­ent head­ers, many of which are unre­lat­ed to loca­tion.

    To demon­strate how pow­er­ful these oth­er mark­ers can be, the AP cre­at­ed a visu­al map of the move­ments of Prince­ton post­doc­tor­al researcher Gunes Acar, who car­ried an Android phone with Loca­tion his­to­ry off, and shared a record of his Google account.

    The map includes Acar’s train com­mute on two trips to New York and vis­its to The High Line park, Chelsea Mar­ket, Hell’s Kitchen, Cen­tral Park and Harlem. To pro­tect his pri­va­cy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and fre­quent mark­er — his home address.
    ...

    Google of course coun­ters that it’s been clear all along:

    ...
    Google says it is being per­fect­ly clear.

    “There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways that Google may use loca­tion to improve people’s expe­ri­ence, includ­ing: Loca­tion His­to­ry, Web and App Activ­i­ty, and through device-lev­el Loca­tion Ser­vices,” a Google spokesper­son said in a state­ment to the AP. “We pro­vide clear descrip­tions of these tools, and robust con­trols so peo­ple can turn them on or off, and delete their his­to­ries at any time.”
    ...

    And while it’s basi­cal­ly trolling the pub­lic at this point for Google to act like its loca­tion data poli­cies have been any­thing oth­er than opaque and con­fus­ing, that troll­ish response and those opaque poli­cies to make one thing increas­ing­ly clear: Google has no inten­tion of stop­ping this kind of data col­lec­tion. If any­thing we should expect it to increase giv­en the plans for more loca­tion-based ser­vices. Resis­tance is still futile. And not just because of Google, even if its one of the biggest offend­ers. It’s more a group effort.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 15, 2018, 2:48 pm
  8. Here’s one of those arti­cles that’s sur­pris­ing in one sense and com­plete­ly pre­dictable in anoth­er sense: Yuval Noah Harari is a futur­ist philoso­pher and author of a num­ber of pop­u­lar books about where human­i­ty is head­ing. Harari appears to be a large­ly dystopi­an futur­ist, envi­sion a future where democ­ra­cy is seen as obso­lete and a tech­no-elite rul­ing class run com­pa­nies with the tech­no­log­i­cal capac­i­ty to essen­tial­ly con­trol the minds of mass­es. Mass­es that will increas­ing­ly be seen obso­lete and use­less. Harari even gave a recent TED Talk called “Why fas­cism is so tempt­ing — and how your data could pow­er it. So how do Sil­i­con Val­ley’s CEO view Mr. Harar­i’s views? They appar­ent­ly can’t get enough of him:

    The New York Times

    Tech C.E.O.s Are in Love With Their Prin­ci­pal Doom­say­er

    The futur­ist philoso­pher Yuval Noah Harari thinks Sil­i­con Val­ley is an engine of dystopi­an ruin. So why do the dig­i­tal elite adore him so?

    By Nel­lie Bowles
    Nov. 9, 2018

    The futur­ist philoso­pher Yuval Noah Harari wor­ries about a lot.

    He wor­ries that Sil­i­con Val­ley is under­min­ing democ­ra­cy and ush­er­ing in a dystopi­an hellscape in which vot­ing is obso­lete.

    He wor­ries that by cre­at­ing pow­er­ful influ­ence machines to con­trol bil­lions of minds, the big tech com­pa­nies are destroy­ing the idea of a sov­er­eign indi­vid­ual with free will.

    He wor­ries that because the tech­no­log­i­cal revolution’s work requires so few labor­ers, Sil­i­con Val­ley is cre­at­ing a tiny rul­ing class and a teem­ing, furi­ous “use­less class.”

    But late­ly, Mr. Harari is anx­ious about some­thing much more per­son­al. If this is his har­row­ing warn­ing, then why do Sil­i­con Val­ley C.E.O.s love him so?

    “One pos­si­bil­i­ty is that my mes­sage is not threat­en­ing to them, and so they embrace it?” a puz­zled Mr. Harari said one after­noon in Octo­ber. “For me, that’s more wor­ry­ing. Maybe I’m miss­ing some­thing?”

    When Mr. Harari toured the Bay Area this fall to pro­mote his lat­est book, the recep­tion was incon­gru­ous­ly joy­ful. Reed Hast­ings, the chief exec­u­tive of Net­flix, threw him a din­ner par­ty. The lead­ers of X, Alphabet’s secre­tive research divi­sion, invit­ed Mr. Harari over. Bill Gates reviewed the book “Fas­ci­nat­ing” and “such a stim­u­lat­ing writer”) in The New York Times.

    “I’m inter­est­ed in how Sil­i­con Val­ley can be so infat­u­at­ed with Yuval, which they are — it’s insane he’s so pop­u­lar, they’re all invit­ing him to cam­pus — yet what Yuval is say­ing under­mines the premise of the adver­tis­ing- and engage­ment-based mod­el of their prod­ucts,” said Tris­tan Har­ris, Google’s for­mer in-house design ethi­cist and the co-founder of the Cen­ter for Humane Tech­nol­o­gy.

    Part of the rea­son might be that Sil­i­con Val­ley, at a cer­tain lev­el, is not opti­mistic on the future of democ­ra­cy. The more of a mess Wash­ing­ton becomes, the more inter­est­ed the tech world is in cre­at­ing some­thing else, and it might not look like elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Rank-and-file coders have long been wary of reg­u­la­tion and curi­ous about alter­na­tive forms of gov­ern­ment. A sep­a­ratist streak runs through the place: Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists peri­od­i­cal­ly call for Cal­i­for­nia to secede or shat­ter, or for the cre­ation of cor­po­rate nation-states. And this sum­mer, Mark Zucker­berg, who has rec­om­mend­ed Mr. Harari to his book club, acknowl­edged a fix­a­tion with the auto­crat Cae­sar Augus­tus. “Basi­cal­ly,” Mr. Zucker­berg told The New York­er, “through a real­ly harsh approach, he estab­lished 200 years of world peace.”

    Mr. Harari, think­ing about all this, puts it this way: “Utopia and dystopia depends on your val­ues.”

    Mr. Harari, who has a Ph.D. from Oxford, is a 42-year-old Israeli philoso­pher and a his­to­ry pro­fes­sor at Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem. The sto­ry of his cur­rent fame begins in 2011, when he pub­lished a book of notable ambi­tion: to sur­vey the whole of human exis­tence. “Sapi­ens: A Brief His­to­ry of Humankind,” first released in Hebrew, did not break new ground in terms of his­tor­i­cal research. Nor did its premise — that humans are ani­mals and our dom­i­nance is an acci­dent — seem a like­ly com­mer­cial hit. But the casu­al tone and smooth way Mr. Harari tied togeth­er exist­ing knowl­edge across fields made it a deeply pleas­ing read, even as the tome end­ed on the notion that the process of human evo­lu­tion might be over. Trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish in 2014, the book went on to sell more than eight mil­lion copies and made Mr. Harari a celebri­ty intel­lec­tu­al.

    He fol­lowed up with “Homo Deus: A Brief His­to­ry of Tomor­row,” which out­lined his vision of what comes after human evo­lu­tion. In it, he describes Dataism, a new faith based around the pow­er of algo­rithms. Mr. Harari’s future is one in which big data is wor­shiped, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sur­pass­es human intel­li­gence, and some humans devel­op God­like abil­i­ties.

    Now, he has writ­ten a book about the present and how it could lead to that future: “21 Lessons for the 21st Cen­tu­ry.” It is meant to be read as a series of warn­ings. His recent TED Talk was called “Why fas­cism is so tempt­ing — and how your data could pow­er it.

    His prophe­cies might have made him a Cas­san­dra in Sil­i­con Val­ley, or at the very least an unwel­come pres­ence. Instead, he has had to rec­on­cile him­self to the locals’ strange delight. “If you make peo­ple start think­ing far more deeply and seri­ous­ly about these issues,” he told me, sound­ing weary, “some of the things they will think about might not be what you want them to think about.”

    ‘Brave New World’ as Aspi­ra­tional Read­ing

    Mr. Harari agreed to let me tag along for a few days on his trav­els through the Val­ley, and one after­noon in Sep­tem­ber, I wait­ed for him out­side X’s offices, in Moun­tain View, while he spoke to the Alpha­bet employ­ees inside. After a while, he emerged: a shy, thin, bespec­ta­cled man with a dust­ing of dark hair. Mr. Harari has a sort of owlish demeanor, in that he looks wise and also does not move his body very much, even while glanc­ing to the side. His face is not par­tic­u­lar­ly expres­sive, with the excep­tion of one rogue eye­brow. When you catch his eye, there is a wary look — like he wants to know if you, too, under­stand exact­ly how bad the world is about to get.

    At the Alpha­bet talk, Mr. Harari had been accom­pa­nied by his pub­lish­er. They said that the younger employ­ees had expressed con­cern about whether their work was con­tribut­ing to a less free soci­ety, while the exec­u­tives gen­er­al­ly thought their impact was pos­i­tive.

    Some work­ers had tried to pre­dict how well humans would adapt to large tech­no­log­i­cal change based on how they have respond­ed to small shifts, like a new ver­sion of Gmail. Mr. Harari told them to think more stark­ly: If there isn’t a major pol­i­cy inter­ven­tion, most humans prob­a­bly will not adapt at all.

    It made him sad, he told me, to see peo­ple build things that destroy their own soci­eties, but he works every day to main­tain an aca­d­e­m­ic dis­tance and remind him­self that humans are just ani­mals. “Part of it is real­ly com­ing from see­ing humans as apes, that this is how they behave,” he said, adding, “They’re chim­panzees. They’re sapi­ens. This is what they do.”

    He was slouch­ing a lit­tle. Social­iz­ing exhausts him.

    As we board­ed the black gull-wing Tes­la Mr. Harari had rent­ed for his vis­it, he brought up Aldous Hux­ley. Gen­er­a­tions have been hor­ri­fied by his nov­el “Brave New World,” which depicts a regime of emo­tion con­trol and pain­less con­sump­tion. Read­ers who encounter the book today, Mr. Harari said, often think it sounds great. “Every­thing is so nice, and in that way it is an intel­lec­tu­al­ly dis­turb­ing book because you’re real­ly hard-pressed to explain what’s wrong with it,” he said. “And you do get today a vision com­ing out of some peo­ple in Sil­i­con Val­ley which goes in that direc­tion.”

    An Alpha­bet media rela­tions man­ag­er lat­er reached out to Mr. Harari’s team to tell him to tell me that the vis­it to X was not allowed to be part of this sto­ry. The request con­fused and then amused Mr. Harari. It is inter­est­ing, he said, that unlike politi­cians, tech com­pa­nies do not need a free press, since they already con­trol the means of mes­sage dis­tri­b­u­tion.

    He said he had resigned him­self to tech exec­u­tives’ glob­al reign, point­ing out how much worse the politi­cians are. “I’ve met a num­ber of these high-tech giants, and gen­er­al­ly they’re good peo­ple,” he said. “They’re not Atti­la the Hun. In the lot­tery of human lead­ers, you could get far worse.”

    Some of his tech fans, he thinks, come to him out of anx­i­ety. “Some may be very fright­ened of the impact of what they are doing,” Mr. Harari said.

    Still, their enthu­si­as­tic embrace of his work makes him uncom­fort­able. “It’s just a rule of thumb in his­to­ry that if you are so much cod­dled by the elites it must mean that you don’t want to fright­en them,” Mr. Harari said. “They can absorb you. You can become the intel­lec­tu­al enter­tain­ment.”

    Din­ner, With a Side of Med­ical­ly Engi­neered Immor­tal­i­ty

    C.E.O. tes­ti­mo­ni­als to Mr. Harari’s acu­men are indeed not hard to come by. “I’m drawn to Yuval for his clar­i­ty of thought,” Jack Dorsey, the head of Twit­ter and Square, wrote in an email, going on to praise a par­tic­u­lar chap­ter on med­i­ta­tion.

    And Mr. Hast­ings wrote: “Yuval’s the anti-Sil­i­con Val­ley per­sona — he doesn’t car­ry a phone and he spends a lot of time con­tem­plat­ing while off the grid. We see in him who we wish we were.” He added, “His think­ing on A.I. and biotech in his new book push­es our under­stand­ing of the dra­mas to unfold.”

    At the din­ner Mr. Hast­ings co-host­ed, aca­d­e­mics and indus­try lead­ers debat­ed the dan­gers of data col­lec­tion, and to what degree longevi­ty ther­a­pies will extend the human life span. (Mr. Harari has writ­ten that the rul­ing class will vast­ly out­live the use­less.) “That evening was small, but could be mag­ni­fied to sym­bol­ize his impact in the heart of Sil­i­con Val­ley,” said Dr. Fei-Fei Li, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence expert who pushed inter­nal­ly at Google to keep secret the company’s efforts to process mil­i­tary drone footage for the Pen­ta­gon. “His book has that abil­i­ty to bring these peo­ple togeth­er at a table, and that is his con­tri­bu­tion.”

    A few nights ear­li­er, Mr. Harari spoke to a sold-out the­ater of 3,500 in San Fran­cis­co. One tick­et-hold­er walk­ing in, an old­er man, told me it was brave and hon­est for Mr. Harari to use the term “use­less class.”

    The author was paired for dis­cus­sion with the pro­lif­ic intel­lec­tu­al Sam Har­ris, who strode onstage in a gray suit and well-starched white but­ton-down. Mr. Harari was less at ease, in a loose suit that crum­pled around him, his hands clasped in his lap as he sat deep in his chair. But as he spoke about med­i­ta­tion — Mr. Harari spends two hours each day and two months each year in silence — he became com­mand­ing. In a region where self-opti­miza­tion is para­mount and med­i­ta­tion is a com­pet­i­tive sport, Mr. Harari’s devo­tion con­fers hero sta­tus.

    He told the audi­ence that free will is an illu­sion, and that human rights are just a sto­ry we tell our­selves. Polit­i­cal par­ties, he said, might not make sense any­more. He went on to argue that the lib­er­al world order has relied on fic­tions like “the cus­tomer is always right” and “fol­low your heart,” and that these ideas no longer work in the age of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, when hearts can be manip­u­lat­ed at scale.

    Every­one in Sil­i­con Val­ley is focused on build­ing the future, Mr. Harari con­tin­ued, while most of the world’s peo­ple are not even need­ed enough to be exploit­ed. “Now you increas­ing­ly feel that there are all these elites that just don’t need me,” he said. “And it’s much worse to be irrel­e­vant than to be exploit­ed.”

    The use­less class he describes is unique­ly vul­ner­a­ble. “If a cen­tu­ry ago you mount­ed a rev­o­lu­tion against exploita­tion, you knew that when bad comes to worse, they can’t shoot all of us because they need us,” he said, cit­ing army ser­vice and fac­to­ry work.

    Now it is becom­ing less clear why the rul­ing elite would not just kill the new use­less class. “You’re total­ly expend­able,” he told the audi­ence.

    This, Mr. Harari told me lat­er, is why Sil­i­con Val­ley is so excit­ed about the con­cept of uni­ver­sal basic income, or stipends paid to peo­ple regard­less of whether they work. The mes­sage is: “We don’t need you. But we are nice, so we’ll take care of you.”

    On Sept. 14, he pub­lished an essay in The Guardian assail­ing anoth­er old trope — that “the vot­er knows best.”

    “If humans are hack­able ani­mals, and if our choic­es and opin­ions don’t reflect our free will, what should the point of pol­i­tics be?” he wrote. “How do you live when you real­ize … that your heart might be a gov­ern­ment agent, that your amyg­dala might be work­ing for Putin, and that the next thought that emerges in your mind might well be the result of some algo­rithm that knows you bet­ter than you know your­self? These are the most inter­est­ing ques­tions human­i­ty now faces.”

    ‘O.K., So Maybe Humankind Is Going to Dis­ap­pear’

    Mr. Harari and his hus­band, Itzik Yahav, who is also his man­ag­er, rent­ed a small house in Moun­tain View for their vis­it, and one morn­ing I found them there mak­ing oat­meal. Mr. Harari observed that as his celebri­ty in Sil­i­con Val­ley has risen, tech fans have focused on his lifestyle.

    “Sil­i­con Val­ley was already kind of a hotbed for med­i­ta­tion and yoga and all these things,” he said. “And one of the things that made me kind of more pop­u­lar and palat­able is that I also have this bedrock.” He was wear­ing an old sweat­shirt and den­im track pants. His voice was qui­et, but he ges­tured wide­ly, wav­ing his hands, hit­ting a jar of spat­u­las.

    Mr. Harari grew up in Kiry­at Ata, near Haifa, and his father worked in the arms indus­try. His moth­er, who worked in office admin­is­tra­tion, now vol­un­teers for her son han­dling his mail; he gets about 1,000 mes­sages a week. Mr. Yahav’s moth­er is their accoun­tant.

    Most days, Mr. Harari doesn’t use an alarm clock, and wakes up between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m., then med­i­tates and has a cup of tea. He works until 4 or 5 p.m., then does anoth­er hour of med­i­ta­tion, fol­lowed by an hour­long walk, maybe a swim, and then TV with Mr. Yahav.

    The two met 16 years ago through the dat­ing site Check Me Out. “We are not big believ­ers in falling in love,” Mr. Harari said. “It was more a ratio­nal choice.”

    “We met each oth­er and we thought, ‘O.K., we’re — O.K., let’s move in with each oth­er,’” Mr. Yahav said.

    Mr. Yahav became Mr. Harari’s man­ag­er. Dur­ing the peri­od when Eng­lish-lan­guage pub­lish­ers were cool on the com­mer­cial via­bil­i­ty of “Sapi­ens” — think­ing it too seri­ous for the aver­age read­er and not seri­ous enough for the schol­ars — Mr. Yahav per­sist­ed, even­tu­al­ly land­ing the Jerusalem-based agent Deb­o­rah Har­ris. One day when Mr. Harari was away med­i­tat­ing, Mr. Yahav and Ms. Har­ris final­ly sold it at auc­tion to Ran­dom House in Lon­don.

    Today, they have a team of eight based in Tel Aviv work­ing on Mr. Harari’s projects. The direc­tor Rid­ley Scott and doc­u­men­tar­i­an Asif Kapa­dia are adapt­ing “Sapi­ens” into a TV show, and Mr. Harari is work­ing on children’s books to reach a broad­er audi­ence.

    ...

    ———-

    “Tech C.E.O.s Are in Love With Their Prin­ci­pal Doom­say­er” by Nel­lie Bowles; The New York Times; 11/09/2018

    Part of the rea­son might be that Sil­i­con Val­ley, at a cer­tain lev­el, is not opti­mistic on the future of democ­ra­cy. The more of a mess Wash­ing­ton becomes, the more inter­est­ed the tech world is in cre­at­ing some­thing else, and it might not look like elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Rank-and-file coders have long been wary of reg­u­la­tion and curi­ous about alter­na­tive forms of gov­ern­ment. A sep­a­ratist streak runs through the place: Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists peri­od­i­cal­ly call for Cal­i­for­nia to secede or shat­ter, or for the cre­ation of cor­po­rate nation-states. And this sum­mer, Mark Zucker­berg, who has rec­om­mend­ed Mr. Harari to his book club, acknowl­edged a fix­a­tion with the auto­crat Cae­sar Augus­tus. “Basi­cal­ly,” Mr. Zucker­berg told The New York­er, “through a real­ly harsh approach, he estab­lished 200 years of world peace.””

    A guy who spe­cial­izes in wor­ry­ing about tech­no elites destroy­ing democ­ra­cy and turn­ing the mass­es into the ‘use­less’ class is is extra wor­ried about the fact those tech­no elites appear to love him. Hmmm...might that have some­thing to do with the fact that the dystopi­an future he’s pre­dict­ing assumes the tech elites com­plete­ly dom­i­nate human­i­ty? And, who knows, he’s prob­a­bly giv­ing them idea for how to accom­plish this dom­i­na­tion. So of course they love him:

    ...
    Now, he has writ­ten a book about the present and how it could lead to that future: “21 Lessons for the 21st Cen­tu­ry.” It is meant to be read as a series of warn­ings. His recent TED Talk was called “Why fas­cism is so tempt­ing — and how your data could pow­er it.

    His prophe­cies might have made him a Cas­san­dra in Sil­i­con Val­ley, or at the very least an unwel­come pres­ence. Instead, he has had to rec­on­cile him­self to the locals’ strange delight. “If you make peo­ple start think­ing far more deeply and seri­ous­ly about these issues,” he told me, sound­ing weary, “some of the things they will think about might not be what you want them to think about.”
    ...

    Plus, Harari appears to view rule by tech exec­u­tives as prefer­able to politi­cians because he views them as ‘gen­er­al­ly good peo­ple’. So, again, of course the tech elite love the guy. He’s pre­dict­ing they dom­i­nate the future and does­n’t see that as all that bad:

    ...
    ‘Brave New World’ as Aspi­ra­tional Read­ing

    Mr. Harari agreed to let me tag along for a few days on his trav­els through the Val­ley, and one after­noon in Sep­tem­ber, I wait­ed for him out­side X’s offices, in Moun­tain View, while he spoke to the Alpha­bet employ­ees inside. After a while, he emerged: a shy, thin, bespec­ta­cled man with a dust­ing of dark hair. Mr. Harari has a sort of owlish demeanor, in that he looks wise and also does not move his body very much, even while glanc­ing to the side. His face is not par­tic­u­lar­ly expres­sive, with the excep­tion of one rogue eye­brow. When you catch his eye, there is a wary look — like he wants to know if you, too, under­stand exact­ly how bad the world is about to get.

    At the Alpha­bet talk, Mr. Harari had been accom­pa­nied by his pub­lish­er. They said that the younger employ­ees had expressed con­cern about whether their work was con­tribut­ing to a less free soci­ety, while the exec­u­tives gen­er­al­ly thought their impact was pos­i­tive.

    ...

    An Alpha­bet media rela­tions man­ag­er lat­er reached out to Mr. Harari’s team to tell him to tell me that the vis­it to X was not allowed to be part of this sto­ry. The request con­fused and then amused Mr. Harari. It is inter­est­ing, he said, that unlike politi­cians, tech com­pa­nies do not need a free press, since they already con­trol the means of mes­sage dis­tri­b­u­tion.

    He said he had resigned him­self to tech exec­u­tives’ glob­al reign, point­ing out how much worse the politi­cians are. “I’ve met a num­ber of these high-tech giants, and gen­er­al­ly they’re good peo­ple,” he said. “They’re not Atti­la the Hun. In the lot­tery of human lead­ers, you could get far worse.”

    Some of his tech fans, he thinks, come to him out of anx­i­ety. “Some may be very fright­ened of the impact of what they are doing,” Mr. Harari said.

    Still, their enthu­si­as­tic embrace of his work makes him uncom­fort­able. “It’s just a rule of thumb in his­to­ry that if you are so much cod­dled by the elites it must mean that you don’t want to fright­en them,” Mr. Harari said. “They can absorb you. You can become the intel­lec­tu­al enter­tain­ment.”
    ...

    He’s also pre­dict­ing that these tech exec­u­tives will use longevi­ty tech­nol­o­gy to ‘vast­ly out­live the use­less’, which clear­ly implies he’s pre­dict­ing longevi­ty tech­nol­o­gy gets devel­oped but not share with ‘the use­less’ (the rest of us):

    ...
    Din­ner, With a Side of Med­ical­ly Engi­neered Immor­tal­i­ty

    C.E.O. tes­ti­mo­ni­als to Mr. Harari’s acu­men are indeed not hard to come by. “I’m drawn to Yuval for his clar­i­ty of thought,” Jack Dorsey, the head of Twit­ter and Square, wrote in an email, going on to praise a par­tic­u­lar chap­ter on med­i­ta­tion.

    And Mr. Hast­ings wrote: “Yuval’s the anti-Sil­i­con Val­ley per­sona — he doesn’t car­ry a phone and he spends a lot of time con­tem­plat­ing while off the grid. We see in him who we wish we were.” He added, “His think­ing on A.I. and biotech in his new book push­es our under­stand­ing of the dra­mas to unfold.”

    At the din­ner Mr. Hast­ings co-host­ed, aca­d­e­mics and indus­try lead­ers debat­ed the dan­gers of data col­lec­tion, and to what degree longevi­ty ther­a­pies will extend the human life span. (Mr. Harari has writ­ten that the rul­ing class will vast­ly out­live the use­less.) “That evening was small, but could be mag­ni­fied to sym­bol­ize his impact in the heart of Sil­i­con Val­ley,” said Dr. Fei-Fei Li, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence expert who pushed inter­nal­ly at Google to keep secret the company’s efforts to process mil­i­tary drone footage for the Pen­ta­gon. “His book has that abil­i­ty to bring these peo­ple togeth­er at a table, and that is his con­tri­bu­tion.”
    ...

    Harari has even gone on to ques­tion whether or not humans have any free will at all and explored the impli­ca­tions of the pos­si­bil­i­ty that tech­nol­o­gy will allow the tech giants to essen­tial­ly con­trol what peo­ple think, effec­tive­ly bio-hack­ing the human mind. And one of the impli­ca­tions he sees from this hijack­ing of human will is that polit­i­cal par­ties might not make sense any­more and human rights are just a sto­ry we tell our­selves. So, again, it’s not exact­ly hard to see why tech elites love the guy. He’s basi­cal­ly mak­ing the case for why we should just accept this dystopi­an future:

    ...
    A few nights ear­li­er, Mr. Harari spoke to a sold-out the­ater of 3,500 in San Fran­cis­co. One tick­et-hold­er walk­ing in, an old­er man, told me it was brave and hon­est for Mr. Harari to use the term “use­less class.”

    The author was paired for dis­cus­sion with the pro­lif­ic intel­lec­tu­al Sam Har­ris, who strode onstage in a gray suit and well-starched white but­ton-down. Mr. Harari was less at ease, in a loose suit that crum­pled around him, his hands clasped in his lap as he sat deep in his chair. But as he spoke about med­i­ta­tion — Mr. Harari spends two hours each day and two months each year in silence — he became com­mand­ing. In a region where self-opti­miza­tion is para­mount and med­i­ta­tion is a com­pet­i­tive sport, Mr. Harari’s devo­tion con­fers hero sta­tus.

    He told the audi­ence that free will is an illu­sion, and that human rights are just a sto­ry we tell our­selves. Polit­i­cal par­ties, he said, might not make sense any­more. He went on to argue that the lib­er­al world order has relied on fic­tions like “the cus­tomer is always right” and “fol­low your heart,” and that these ideas no longer work in the age of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, when hearts can be manip­u­lat­ed at scale.

    Every­one in Sil­i­con Val­ley is focused on build­ing the future, Mr. Harari con­tin­ued, while most of the world’s peo­ple are not even need­ed enough to be exploit­ed. “Now you increas­ing­ly feel that there are all these elites that just don’t need me,” he said. “And it’s much worse to be irrel­e­vant than to be exploit­ed.”

    The use­less class he describes is unique­ly vul­ner­a­ble. “If a cen­tu­ry ago you mount­ed a rev­o­lu­tion against exploita­tion, you knew that when bad comes to worse, they can’t shoot all of us because they need us,” he said, cit­ing army ser­vice and fac­to­ry work.

    Now it is becom­ing less clear why the rul­ing elite would not just kill the new use­less class. “You’re total­ly expend­able,” he told the audi­ence.

    This, Mr. Harari told me lat­er, is why Sil­i­con Val­ley is so excit­ed about the con­cept of uni­ver­sal basic income, or stipends paid to peo­ple regard­less of whether they work. The mes­sage is: “We don’t need you. But we are nice, so we’ll take care of you.”

    On Sept. 14, he pub­lished an essay in The Guardian assail­ing anoth­er old trope — that “the vot­er knows best.”

    “If humans are hack­able ani­mals, and if our choic­es and opin­ions don’t reflect our free will, what should the point of pol­i­tics be?” he wrote. “How do you live when you real­ize … that your heart might be a gov­ern­ment agent, that your amyg­dala might be work­ing for Putin, and that the next thought that emerges in your mind might well be the result of some algo­rithm that knows you bet­ter than you know your­self? These are the most inter­est­ing ques­tions human­i­ty now faces.”
    ...

    So as we can see, it’s abun­dant­ly clear why Mr. Harari is sud­den­ly the go-to guru for Sil­i­con Val­ley’s elites: he’s depict­ing a dystopi­an future that’s utopi­an if you hap­pen to be an author­i­tar­i­an tech elite who wants to dom­i­nate the future. And he’s kind of por­tray­ing this future as just some­one we should accept. Sure, we in the use­less class should be plen­ty anx­ious about becom­ing use­less, but don’t both­er try­ing to orga­nize against this future, espe­cial­ly since demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics is becom­ing point­less in an age when mass opin­ion can be hacked and manip­u­lat­ed. Just accept that this is the future and wor­ry about adapt­ing to it. That more or less appears to be Harar­i’s dystopi­an mes­sage. Which is as much a mes­sage about a dystopi­an present as it is about a dystopi­an future. A dystopi­an present where human­i­ty is already so help­less that noth­ing can be done to pre­vent this dystopi­an future.

    And that all points towards one obvi­ous area of futur­ism Harari could engage in that might actu­al­ly turn off some of his Sil­i­con Val­ley fan base: explore the phase of the future after the fas­cist tech­no elites have seized com­plete con­trol of human­i­ty and start war­ring amongst them­selves. Don’t for­get that one of fea­ture of democ­ra­cy is that it sort of cre­ates a uni­fy­ing force for all the bru­tal wannabe fas­cist oli­garchs. They all have a com­mon ene­my. The peo­ple. But what hap­pens when they’ve tru­ly won and sub­ju­gat­ed human­i­ty or exter­mi­nat­ed most of it? Won’t they pro­ceed to go to war with each oth­er at that point? If you’re a bru­tal cut­throat fas­cist oli­garch of the future shar­ing pow­er with oth­er bru­tal cut­throat fas­cist oli­garchs, are you real­ly going to trust that they aren’t plot­ting to take you down and take over your neo-feu­dal per­son­al empire? Does any­one doubt that if Peter Thiel man­aged to obtain longevi­ty tech­nol­o­gy and cloning tech­nol­o­gy that there won’t be a clone army of Nazi Peter Thiels some day war­ring against rival fas­cist elites?

    These fas­cist over­lords are also pre­sum­ably going to be high­ly reliant on pri­vate robot armies. What kind of future should these fas­cist tech elites expect when they are all sport­ing rival com­pet­ing pri­vate robot armies? That might sound fun at first, but do they real­ly want to live in a world where their rivals also have pri­vate robot armies? Or advanced biowar­fare arse­nals? And how about AI going to war with these fas­cist elites? Does Mr. Harari have any opin­ions on the prob­a­bil­i­ty of Skynet emerg­ing and the robots rebelling against their fas­cist human over­lords? Per­haps if he explored how dystopi­an this tech elite-dom­i­nat­ed future could be for the tech elites them­selves, and fur­ther explored the inher­ent dan­gers a high-tech soci­ety run by and for com­pet­ing author­i­tar­i­an per­son­al­i­ties present to those same com­pet­ing author­i­tar­i­an per­son­al­i­ties, maybe they would­n’t love him so much.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 20, 2018, 4:21 pm
  9. You know that scene in the Bat­man movie, The Dark Knight, where Bruce Wayne com­pa­ny turns every cell­phone in Gotham into lit­tle sonar devices that are used to map out the phys­i­cal loca­tions of peo­ple and objects all across the city? Well, in the future, Bat­man won’t need to rely on such tech­no­log­i­cal trick­ery. He’ll just need to be a major investor in Google:

    TechCrunch

    FCC green­lights Soli, Google’s radar-based ges­ture tech

    Rita Liao
    1/2/2019

    Google has won U.S. reg­u­la­to­ry approval to go ahead with a radar-based motion sen­sor that could make touch­screens look obso­lete in the com­ing years. Known as the Soli Project, the ini­tia­tive began in 2015 inside Google’s Advanced Tech­nol­o­gy and Projects unit, a group respon­si­ble for turn­ing the giant’s cut­ting-edge ideas into prod­ucts.

    We’ve seen a num­ber of Soli’s tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs since then, from being able to iden­ti­fy objects to reduc­ing the radar sensor’s pow­er con­sump­tion.. Most recent­ly, a reg­u­la­to­ry order is set to move it into a more action­able phase. The U.S. Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion said ear­li­er this week that it would grant Project Soli a waiv­er to oper­ate at high­er pow­er lev­els than cur­rent­ly allowed. The gov­ern­ment agency also said users can oper­ate the sen­sor aboard a plane because the device pos­es “min­i­mal poten­tial of caus­ing harm­ful inter­fer­ence to oth­er spec­trum users.”

    Soli fits radar sen­sors into a tiny chip the size of an Amer­i­can quar­ter to track slight hand or fin­ger motions at high speed and accu­ra­cy. That means instead of twist­ing a knob to adjust the vol­ume of your stereo, you can rub your fin­gers over a speak­er that con­tains a Soli chip as if slid­ing across a vir­tu­al dial. Under the reg­u­la­to­ry order, you also would be allowed to air press a but­ton on your Soli-pow­ered smart­watch in the future.

    Aside from clear­ing safe­ty con­cerns, the FCC also found that the sens­ing tech serves the pub­lic inter­est: “The abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize users’ touch­less hand ges­tures to con­trol a device, such as a smart­phone, could help peo­ple with mobil­i­ty, speech, or tac­tile impair­ments, which in turn could lead to high­er pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and qual­i­ty of life for many mem­bers of the Amer­i­can pub­lic.”

    ...

    The reg­u­la­to­ry con­sent arrived months after Face­book raised issues with the FCC that the Soli sen­sors oper­at­ing at high­er pow­er lev­els might inter­fere with oth­er device sys­tems. The two firms came to a con­sen­sus in Sep­tem­ber and told the FCC that Soli could oper­ate at pow­er lev­els high­er than what the gov­ern­ment allowed but low­er than what Google had request­ed.

    It’s a ratio­nal move for Face­book try­ing to shape the rules for the new field, giv­en its own Ocu­lus deploys motion tech­nolo­gies. The com­pa­ny also has invest­ed in research­ing the area, for instance, by look­ing at a device that cre­ates motion on the arm to sim­u­late social ges­tures like hug­ging.

    The update on Google’s tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment is a tem­po­rary dis­trac­tion from the giant’s more ques­tion­able, rev­enue-dri­ven moves in recent months, includ­ing a mas­sive data leak on Google+ fol­lowed by the clo­sure of the online ghost town, its fail­ure to crack down on child porn and its con­tro­ver­sial plan to re-enter Chi­na report­ed­ly with a cen­sored search engine.

    [Update: Google removed sev­er­al third-par­ty apps that led users to child porn shar­ing groups after TechCrunch report­ed about the prob­lem.]

    ———-

    “FCC green­lights Soli, Google’s radar-based ges­ture tech” by Rita Liao; TechCrunch; 1/2/2019

    “We’ve seen a num­ber of Soli’s tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs since then, from being able to iden­ti­fy objects to reduc­ing the radar sensor’s pow­er con­sump­tion.. Most recent­ly, a reg­u­la­to­ry order is set to move it into a more action­able phase. The U.S. Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion said ear­li­er this week that it would grant Project Soli a waiv­er to oper­ate at high­er pow­er lev­els than cur­rent­ly allowed. The gov­ern­ment agency also said users can oper­ate the sen­sor aboard a plane because the device pos­es “min­i­mal poten­tial of caus­ing harm­ful inter­fer­ence to oth­er spec­trum users.””

    A tiny radar-based sys­tem for detect­ing hand ges­tures. It’s pret­ty neat! And it’s also appar­ent­ly able to iden­ti­fy objects too. Pret­ty neat too! And also a won­der­ful new source of data for Google since it sounds like Soli can iden­ti­fy the shapes of objects as well as their inner struc­tures:

    The Verge

    Google’s minia­ture radars can now iden­ti­fy objects

    Researchers from St Andrews Uni­ver­si­ty teach Google’s tech a fun new trick

    By James Vin­cent
    Nov 10, 2016, 6:54am EST

    When Google unveiled Project Soli in 2015, the com­pa­ny pre­sent­ed it as a way to cre­ate ges­ture con­trols for future tech­nol­o­gy. Soli’s minia­ture radars are small enough to fit into a smart­watch and can detect move­ments with sub-mil­lime­ter accu­ra­cy, allow­ing you to con­trol the vol­ume of a speak­er, say, by twid­dling an imag­i­nary dial in mid-air. But now, a group of researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of St Andrews in Scot­land have used one of the first Project Soli devel­op­ers kits to teach Google’s tech a new trick: rec­og­niz­ing objects using radar.

    The device is called Radar­Cat (or Radar Cat­e­go­riza­tion for Input and Inter­ac­tion), and works the way any radar sys­tem does. A base units fires elec­tro­mag­net­ic waves at a tar­get, some of which bounce off and return to base. The sys­tem times how long it takes for them to come back and uses this infor­ma­tion to work out the shape of the object and how far away it is. But because Google’s Soli radars are so accu­rate, they can not only detect the exte­ri­or of an object, but also its inter­nal struc­ture and rear sur­face.

    “These three sets of sig­nals togeth­er gives you the unique fin­ger­print for each object,” lead researcher Pro­fes­sor Aaron Quigley tells The Verge. Radar­Cat is accu­rate enough that it can even tell the dif­fer­ence between the front and back of a smart­phone, or tell whether a glass is full or emp­ty.

    This sys­tem is sur­pris­ing­ly accu­rate, but there are some major lim­i­ta­tions. For exam­ple, Radar­Cat does occa­sion­al­ly con­fuse objects with sim­i­lar mate­r­i­al prop­er­ties (for exam­ple, the alu­minum case of a Mac­Book and an alu­minum weigh­ing scale), and while it works best on sol­id objects with flat sur­faces, it takes a lit­tle longer to get a clear sig­nal on things that are hol­low or odd­ly shaped. (For more infor­ma­tion, check out the full study pub­lished by St Andrews.)

    Radar­Cat also has to be taught what each object looks like before it can rec­og­nize it, although Quigley says this isn’t as much of a prob­lem as it ini­tial­ly appears. He com­pares it to music CDs: “When you first start­ed using them, you put in the CD and it would come up with song list. That infor­ma­tion wasn’t record­ed on the CD, but held in a data­base in the cloud, with the fin­ger­print of the CD used to do the lookup.” Once the infor­ma­tion has been intro­duced to the sys­tem once, says Quigley, it can be eas­i­ly dis­trib­uted and used by . And the more infor­ma­tion we have about var­i­ous radar fin­ger­prints, the more we can gen­er­al­ize and make infer­ences about nev­er-before-seen objects.

    One of the most obvi­ous appli­ca­tions of this research is to cre­ate a dic­tio­nary of things. Visu­al­ly impaired indi­vid­u­als could use it to iden­ti­fy objects that feel sim­i­lar in shape or size, or it could deliv­er more spe­cial­ized infor­ma­tion — iden­ti­fy­ing a phone mod­el, for exam­ple, and quick­ly bring­ing up a list of specs and a user man­u­al. If RadarCat’s abil­i­ties were added to elec­tron­ics, then users could trig­ger cer­tain func­tions based on con­text — hold your Radar­Cat-enabled phone in a gloved hand, for exam­ple, and it could switch to an easy-to-use user inter­face with large icons.

    ...

    The next step for RadarCat’s cre­ators is to improve the system’s abil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish between sim­i­lar objects, sug­gest­ing they could use it to not only say whether a glass is full or emp­ty, for exam­ple, but also clas­si­fy its con­tents. If the tech­nol­o­gy ever moves into main­stream use it would be quite the evo­lu­tion — from a mil­i­tary tech used to detect ships and air­planes, to a con­sumer one that can tell you exact­ly what you’re about to drink.

    ———-

    “Google’s minia­ture radars can now iden­ti­fy objects” by James Vin­cent; The Verge; 11/10/2016

    “The device is called Radar­Cat (or Radar Cat­e­go­riza­tion for Input and Inter­ac­tion), and works the way any radar sys­tem does. A base units fires elec­tro­mag­net­ic waves at a tar­get, some of which bounce off and return to base. The sys­tem times how long it takes for them to come back and uses this infor­ma­tion to work out the shape of the object and how far away it is. But because Google’s Soli radars are so accu­rate, they can not only detect the exte­ri­or of an object, but also its inter­nal struc­ture and rear sur­face.”

    That’s how pow­er­ful (and inva­sive) Google’s new radar sys­tem is. Not only can it detect the exte­ri­or of an object but also its rear sur­face and inter­nal struc­ture. And it’s even pos­si­ble it will be able to deter­mine things like the con­tents of a glass:

    ...
    The next step for RadarCat’s cre­ators is to improve the system’s abil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish between sim­i­lar objects, sug­gest­ing they could use it to not only say whether a glass is full or emp­ty, for exam­ple, but also clas­si­fy its con­tents. If the tech­nol­o­gy ever moves into main­stream use it would be quite the evo­lu­tion — from a mil­i­tary tech used to detect ships and air­planes, to a con­sumer one that can tell you exact­ly what you’re about to drink.
    ...

    So your fan­cy new Soli-pow­ered Google smart­watch will not only be able to detect whether or not you’re drink­ing some­thing but might be able to deter­mine what you’re drink­ing. And that’s what they could do two years ago. It’s pre­sum­ably much more advanced by this point. You can watch a video here of Soli detect­ing all sorts of objects, and even col­ors. The video shows peo­ple putting objects right on the radar plate to detect it. But accord­ing to a report from 2016, JBL, the speak­er man­u­fac­tur­er, was work­ing on a speak­er with a built-in Soli sen­sor that could sense your fin­ger motions up to 15 meters away. In oth­er words, we should­n’t assume this tech­nol­o­gy will be used for only detect­ing objects and motions very close to the sen­sors. And that’s some­thing that makes the FCC rul­ing allow­ing for high­er-pow­er devices much more rel­e­vant. More pow­er means greater dis­tances.

    And while the idea of an object dic­tio­nary sounds like the kind of thing that would be lim­it­ed to objects like cups or what­ev­er, don’t for­get that Google is prob­a­bly going to have the kind of infor­ma­tion nec­es­sar­i­ly to cre­ate an object dic­tio­nary of peo­ple (height, weight, body type, etc). Also keep in mind that Google already has pow­er­ful loca­tion track­ing ser­vices built into the Android smart­phone oper­at­ing sys­tem, so Google is going to already going to know about at least some of the peo­ple stand­ing next to your Soli-pow­ered device. So if Google does­n’t already have enough infor­ma­tion about you to cre­ate a record of you in its object dic­tio­nary sys­tem, it will prob­a­bly be able to cre­ate that record pret­ty eas­i­ly. And if this radar tech­nol­o­gy can detect sub-mil­lime­ter motions of your fin­gers, it can pre­sum­ably pick up things like facial expres­sions, or per­haps even facial struc­tures too. That will pre­sum­ably also be use­ful for iden­ti­fy who hap­pens to be in the vicin­i­ty of your Soli device.

    It’s all a reminder that motion-based senor tech­nol­o­gy might be sens­ing a lot more than just motion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 3, 2019, 3:02 pm
  10. Here’s anoth­er sto­ry about the abuse of the loca­tion data of smart­phones. This time it does­n’t involved the smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers or the cre­ators of the oper­at­ing sys­tems, like Google. Instead, it’s about the sale of your loca­tion data from your cell­phone ser­vice provider. And it appears to include vir­tu­al­ly all of the major cell­phone oper­a­tors in the US, which makes this to kind of data abuse that con­sumers can’t do much about. Because while you could opt to not get an Android-based phone if you don’t like Google’s exten­sive loca­tion data col­lec­tion, it’s pos­si­ble there sim­ply may not be an cel­lu­lar ser­vice provider who does­n’t sell your loca­tion data.

    And the fact that con­sumer can’t do much about this issue adds to the scan­dalous nature of it because there is one thing con­sumers can do: get the gov­ern­ment to reg­u­late cel­lu­lar ser­vice providers to stop them from sell­ing this data. And the US gov­ern­ment did actu­al­ly warn the tele­com indus­try about this prac­tice and got assur­ances that it would end. But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle makes clear, that has­n’t hap­pened. Instead, it appears that vir­tu­al­ly all cel­lu­lar providers are mak­ing loca­tion data avail­able to a broad array of busi­ness­es. And some of those busi­ness are reselling the data to any­one for a sub­stan­tial prof­it:

    Vice Moth­er­board

    I Gave a Boun­ty Hunter $300. Then He Locat­ed Our Phone
    T‑Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are sell­ing access to their cus­tomers’ loca­tion data, and that data is end­ing up in the hands of boun­ty hunters and oth­ers not autho­rized to pos­sess it, let­ting them track most phones in the coun­try.

    by Joseph Cox

    Jan 8 2019, 11:08am

    Ner­vous­ly, I gave a boun­ty hunter a phone num­ber. He had offered to geolo­cate a phone for me, using a shady, over­looked ser­vice intend­ed not for the cops, but for pri­vate indi­vid­u­als and busi­ness­es. Armed with just the num­ber and a few hun­dred dol­lars, he said he could find the cur­rent loca­tion of most phones in the Unit­ed States.

    The boun­ty hunter sent the num­ber to his own con­tact, who would track the phone. The con­tact respond­ed with a screen­shot of Google Maps, con­tain­ing a blue cir­cle indi­cat­ing the phone’s cur­rent loca­tion, approx­i­mate to a few hun­dred metres.

    Queens, New York. More specif­i­cal­ly, the screen­shot showed a loca­tion in a par­tic­u­lar neighborhood—just a cou­ple of blocks from where the tar­get was. The hunter had found the phone (the tar­get gave their con­sent to Moth­er­board to be tracked via their T‑Mobile phone.)

    The boun­ty hunter did this all with­out deploy­ing a hack­ing tool or hav­ing any pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of the phone’s where­abouts. Instead, the track­ing tool relies on real-time loca­tion data sold to boun­ty hunters that ulti­mate­ly orig­i­nat­ed from the tel­cos them­selves, includ­ing T‑Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint, a Moth­er­board inves­ti­ga­tion has found. These sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ties are some­times sold through word-of-mouth net­works.

    Where­as it’s com­mon knowl­edge that law enforce­ment agen­cies can track phones with a war­rant to ser­vice providers, IMSI catch­ers, or until recent­ly via oth­er com­pa­nies that sell loca­tion data such as one called Secu­rus, at least one com­pa­ny, called Micro­bilt, is sell­ing phone geolo­ca­tion ser­vices with lit­tle over­sight to a spread of dif­fer­ent pri­vate indus­tries, rang­ing from car sales­men and prop­er­ty man­agers to bail bonds­men and boun­ty hunters, accord­ing to sources famil­iar with the company’s prod­ucts and com­pa­ny doc­u­ments obtained by Moth­er­board. Com­pound­ing that already high­ly ques­tion­able busi­ness prac­tice, this spy­ing capa­bil­i­ty is also being resold to oth­ers on the black mar­ket who are not licensed by the com­pa­ny to use it, includ­ing me, seem­ing­ly with­out Microbilt’s knowl­edge.

    Motherboard’s inves­ti­ga­tion shows just how exposed mobile net­works and the data they gen­er­ate are, leav­ing them open to sur­veil­lance by ordi­nary cit­i­zens, stalk­ers, and crim­i­nals, and comes as media and pol­i­cy mak­ers are pay­ing more atten­tion than ever to how loca­tion and oth­er sen­si­tive data is col­lect­ed and sold. The inves­ti­ga­tion also shows that a wide vari­ety of com­pa­nies can access cell phone loca­tion data, and that the infor­ma­tion trick­les down from cell phone providers to a wide array of small­er play­ers, who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have the cor­rect safe­guards in place to pro­tect that data.

    “Peo­ple are reselling to the wrong peo­ple,” the bail indus­try source who flagged the com­pa­ny to Moth­er­board said. Moth­er­board grant­ed the source and oth­ers in this sto­ry anonymi­ty to talk more can­did­ly about a con­tro­ver­sial sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ty.

    Your mobile phone is con­stant­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing with near­by cell phone tow­ers, so your tele­com provider knows where to route calls and texts. From this, tele­com com­pa­nies also work out the phone’s approx­i­mate loca­tion based on its prox­im­i­ty to those tow­ers.

    Although many users may be unaware of the prac­tice, tele­com com­pa­nies in the Unit­ed States sell access to their cus­tomers’ loca­tion data to oth­er com­pa­nies, called loca­tion aggre­ga­tors, who then sell it to spe­cif­ic clients and indus­tries. Last year, one loca­tion aggre­ga­tor called Loca­tion­S­mart faced harsh crit­i­cism for sell­ing data that ulti­mate­ly end­ed up in the hands of Secu­rus, a com­pa­ny which pro­vid­ed phone track­ing to low lev­el enforce­ment with­out requir­ing a war­rant. Loca­tion­S­mart also exposed the very data it was sell­ing through a bug­gy web­site pan­el, mean­ing any­one could geolo­cate near­ly any phone in the Unit­ed States at a click of a mouse.

    There’s a com­plex sup­ply chain that shares some of Amer­i­can cell phone users’ most sen­si­tive data, with the tel­cos poten­tial­ly being unaware of how the data is being used by the even­tu­al end user, or even whose hands it lands in. Finan­cial com­pa­nies use phone loca­tion data to detect fraud; road­side assis­tance firms use it to locate stuck cus­tomers. But AT&T, for exam­ple, told Moth­er­board the use of its cus­tomers’ data by boun­ty hunters goes explic­it­ly against the company’s poli­cies, rais­ing ques­tions about how AT&T allowed the sale for this pur­pose in the first place.

    “The alle­ga­tion here would vio­late our con­tract and Pri­va­cy Pol­i­cy,” an AT&T spokesper­son told Moth­er­board in an email.

    In the case of the phone we tracked, six dif­fer­ent enti­ties had poten­tial access to the phone’s data. T‑Mobile shares loca­tion data with an aggre­ga­tor called Zumi­go, which shares infor­ma­tion with Micro­bilt. Micro­bilt shared that data with a cus­tomer using its mobile phone track­ing prod­uct. The boun­ty hunter then shared this infor­ma­tion with a bail indus­try source, who shared it with Moth­er­board.

    The CTIA, a tele­com indus­try trade group of which AT&T, Sprint, and T‑Mobile are mem­bers, has offi­cial guide­lines for the use of so-called “loca­tion-based ser­vices” that “rely on two fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples: user notice and con­sent,” the group wrote in those guide­lines. Tele­com com­pa­nies and data aggre­ga­tors that Moth­er­board spoke to said that they require their clients to get con­sent from the peo­ple they want to track, but it’s clear that this is not always hap­pen­ing.

    A sec­ond source who has tracked the geolo­ca­tion indus­try told Moth­er­board, while talk­ing about the indus­try gen­er­al­ly, “If there is mon­ey to be made they will keep sell­ing the data.”

    “Those third-lev­el com­pa­nies sell their ser­vices. That is where you see the issues with going to shady folks [and] for shady rea­sons,” the source added.

    Fred­erike Kalthe­uner, data exploita­tion pro­gramme lead at cam­paign group Pri­va­cy Inter­na­tion­al, told Moth­er­board in a phone call that “it’s part of a big­ger prob­lem; the US has a com­plete­ly unreg­u­lat­ed data ecosys­tem.”

    Micro­bilt buys access to loca­tion data from an aggre­ga­tor called Zumi­go and then sells it to a dizzy­ing num­ber of sec­tors, includ­ing land­lords to scope out poten­tial renters; motor vehi­cle sales­men, and oth­ers who are con­duct­ing cred­it checks. Armed with just a phone num­ber, Microbilt’s “Mobile Device Ver­i­fy” prod­uct can return a target’s full name and address, geolo­cate a phone in an indi­vid­ual instance, or oper­ate as a con­tin­u­ous track­ing ser­vice.

    “You can set up mon­i­tor­ing with con­trol over the weeks, days and even hours that loca­tion on a device is checked as well as the start and end dates of mon­i­tor­ing,” a com­pa­ny brochure Moth­er­board found online reads.

    Pos­ing as a poten­tial cus­tomer, Moth­er­board explic­it­ly asked a Micro­bilt cus­tomer sup­port staffer whether the com­pa­ny offered phone geolo­ca­tion for bail bonds­men. Short­ly after, anoth­er staffer emailed with a price list—locat­ing a phone can cost as lit­tle as $4.95 each if search­ing for a low num­ber of devices. That price gets even cheap­er as the cus­tomer buys the capa­bil­i­ty to track more phones. Get­ting real-time updates on a phone’s loca­tion can cost around $12.95.

    “Dirt cheap when you think about the data you can get,” the source famil­iar with the indus­try added.

    It’s bad enough that access to high­ly sen­si­tive phone geolo­ca­tion data is already being sold to a wide range of indus­tries and busi­ness­es. But there is also an under­ground mar­ket that Moth­er­board used to geolo­cate a phone—one where Micro­bilt cus­tomers resell their access at a prof­it, and with min­i­mal over­sight.

    “Blade Run­ner, the icon­ic sci-fi movie, is set in 2019. And here we are: there’s an unreg­u­lat­ed black mar­ket where boun­ty-hunters can buy infor­ma­tion about where we are, in real time, over time, and come after us. You don’t need to be a repli­cant to be scared of the con­se­quences,” Thomas Rid, pro­fes­sor of strate­gic stud­ies at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty, told Moth­er­board in an online chat.

    The bail indus­try source said his mid­dle­man used Micro­bilt to find the phone. This mid­dle­man charged $300, a size­able markup on the usu­al Micro­bilt price. The Google Maps screen­shot pro­vid­ed to Moth­er­board of the tar­get phone’s loca­tion also includ­ed its approx­i­mate lon­gi­tude and lat­i­tude coor­di­nates, and a range of how accu­rate the phone geolo­ca­tion is: 0.3 miles, or just under 500 metres. It may not nec­es­sar­i­ly be enough to geolo­cate some­one to a spe­cif­ic build­ing in a pop­u­lat­ed area, but it can cer­tain­ly pin­point a par­tic­u­lar bor­ough, city, or neigh­bor­hood.

    In oth­er cas­es of phone geolo­ca­tion it is typ­i­cal­ly done with the con­sent of the tar­get, per­haps by send­ing a text mes­sage the user has to delib­er­ate­ly reply to, sig­nalling they accept their loca­tion being tracked. This may be done in the ear­li­er road­side assis­tance exam­ple or when a com­pa­ny mon­i­tors its fleet of trucks. But when Moth­er­board test­ed the geolo­ca­tion ser­vice, the tar­get phone received no warn­ing it was being tracked.

    The bail source who orig­i­nal­ly alert­ed Micro­bilt to Moth­er­board said that boun­ty hunters have used phone geolo­ca­tion ser­vices for non-work pur­pos­es, such as track­ing their girl­friends. Moth­er­board was unable to iden­ti­fy a spe­cif­ic instance of this hap­pen­ing, but domes­tic stalk­ers have repeat­ed­ly used tech­nol­o­gy, such as mobile phone mal­ware, to track spous­es.

    As Moth­er­board was report­ing this sto­ry, Micro­bilt removed doc­u­ments relat­ed to its mobile phone loca­tion prod­uct from its web­site.

    A Micro­bilt spokesper­son told Moth­er­board in a state­ment that the com­pa­ny requires any­one using its mobile device ver­i­fi­ca­tion ser­vices for fraud pre­ven­tion must first obtain con­sent of the con­sumer. Micro­bilt also con­firmed it found an instance of abuse on its platform—our phone ping.

    “The request came through a licensed state agency that writes in approx­i­mate­ly $100 mil­lion in bonds per year and passed all up front cre­den­tial­ing under the pre­tense that loca­tion was being ver­i­fied to mit­i­gate finan­cial expo­sure relat­ed to a bond loan being con­sid­ered for the sub­mit­ted con­sumer,” Micro­bilt said in an emailed state­ment. In this case, “licensed state agency” is refer­ring to a pri­vate bail bond com­pa­ny, Moth­er­board con­firmed.

    “As a result, Micro­Bilt was unaware that its terms of use were being vio­lat­ed by the rogue indi­vid­ual that sub­mit­ted the request under false pre­tens­es, does not approve of such use cas­es, and has a clear pol­i­cy that such vio­la­tions will result in loss of access to all Micro­Bilt ser­vices and ter­mi­na­tion of the request­ing party’s end-user agree­ment,” Micro­bilt added. “Upon inves­ti­gat­ing the alleged abuse and learn­ing of the vio­la­tion of our con­tract, we ter­mi­nat­ed the customer’s access to our prod­ucts and they will not be eli­gi­ble for rein­state­ment based on this vio­la­tion.”

    Zumi­go con­firmed it was the com­pa­ny that pro­vid­ed the phone loca­tion to Micro­bilt and defend­ed its prac­tices. In a state­ment, Zumi­go did not seem to take issue with the prac­tice of pro­vid­ing data that ulti­mate­ly end­ed up with licensed boun­ty hunters, but wrote, “ille­gal access to data is an unfor­tu­nate occur­rence across vir­tu­al­ly every indus­try that deals in con­sumer or employ­ee data, and it is impos­si­ble to detect a fraud­ster, or rogue cus­tomer, who requests loca­tion data of his or her own mobile devices when the required con­sent is pro­vid­ed. How­ev­er, Zumi­go takes steps to pro­tect pri­va­cy by pro­vid­ing a mea­sure of dis­tance (approx. 0.5–1.0 mile) from an actu­al address.” Zumi­go told Moth­er­board it has cut Microbilt’s data access.

    In Motherboard’s case, the suc­cess­ful­ly geolo­cat­ed phone was on T‑Mobile.

    “We take the pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty of our cus­tomers’ infor­ma­tion very seri­ous­ly and will not tol­er­ate any mis­use of our cus­tomers’ data,” A T‑Mobile spokesper­son told Moth­er­board in an emailed state­ment. “While T‑Mobile does not have a direct rela­tion­ship with Micro­bilt, our ven­dor Zumi­go was work­ing with them and has con­firmed with us that they have already shut down all trans­mis­sion of T‑Mobile data. T‑Mobile has also blocked access to device loca­tion data for any request sub­mit­ted by Zumi­go on behalf of Micro­bilt as an addi­tion­al pre­cau­tion.”

    Microbilt’s prod­uct doc­u­men­ta­tion sug­gests the phone loca­tion ser­vice works on all mobile net­works, how­ev­er the mid­dle­man was unable or unwill­ing to con­duct a search for a Ver­i­zon device. Ver­i­zon did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    AT&T told Moth­er­board it has cut access to Micro­bilt as the com­pa­ny inves­ti­gates.

    “We only per­mit the shar­ing of loca­tion when a cus­tomer gives per­mis­sion for cas­es like fraud pre­ven­tion or emer­gency road­side assis­tance, or when required by law,” the AT&T spokesper­son said.

    Sprint told Moth­er­board in a state­ment that “pro­tect­ing our cus­tomers’ pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty is a top pri­or­i­ty, and we are trans­par­ent about that in our Pri­va­cy Pol­i­cy [...] Sprint does not have a direct rela­tion­ship with Micro­Bilt. If we deter­mine that any of our cus­tomers do and have vio­lat­ed the terms of our con­tract, we will take appro­pri­ate action based on those find­ings.” Sprint would not clar­i­fy the con­tours of its rela­tion­ship with Micro­bilt.

    These state­ments sound very famil­iar. When The New York Times and Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden pub­lished details of Secu­rus last year, the firm that was offer­ing geolo­ca­tion to low lev­el law enforce­ment with­out a war­rant, the tel­cos said they were tak­ing extra mea­sures to make sure their cus­tomers’ data would not be abused again. Ver­i­zon announced it was going to lim­it data access to com­pa­nies not using it for legit­i­mate pur­pos­es. T‑Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T fol­lowed suit short­ly after with sim­i­lar promis­es.

    After Wyden’s pres­sure, T‑Mobile’s CEO John Leg­ere tweet­ed in June last year “I’ve per­son­al­ly eval­u­at­ed this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell cus­tomer loca­tion data to shady mid­dle­men.”

    Months after the tel­cos said they were going to com­bat this prob­lem, in the face of an arguably even worse case of abuse and data trad­ing, they are say­ing much the same thing. Last year, Moth­er­board report­ed on a com­pa­ny that pre­vi­ous­ly offered phone geolo­ca­tion to boun­ty hunters; here Micro­bilt is oper­at­ing even after a wave of out­rage from pol­i­cy mak­ers. In its state­ment to Moth­er­board on Mon­day, T‑Mobile said it has near­ly fin­ished the process of ter­mi­nat­ing its agree­ments with loca­tion aggre­ga­tors.

    “It would be bad if this was the first time we learned about it. It’s not. Every major wire­less car­ri­er pledged to end this kind of data shar­ing after I exposed this prac­tice last year. Now it appears these promis­es were lit­tle more than worth­less spam in their cus­tomers’ inbox­es,” Wyden told Moth­er­board in a state­ment. Wyden is propos­ing leg­is­la­tion to safe­guard per­son­al data.

    ...

    “Wire­less car­ri­ers’ con­tin­ued sale of loca­tion data is a night­mare for nation­al secu­ri­ty and the per­son­al safe­ty of any­one with a phone,” Wyden added. “When stalk­ers, spies, and preda­tors know when a woman is alone, or when a home is emp­ty, or where a White House offi­cial stops after work, the pos­si­bil­i­ties for abuse are end­less.”

    ———-

    “I Gave a Boun­ty Hunter $300. Then He Locat­ed Our Phone” by Joseph Cox; Vice Moth­er­board; 01/08/2019

    Although many users may be unaware of the prac­tice, tele­com com­pa­nies in the Unit­ed States sell access to their cus­tomers’ loca­tion data to oth­er com­pa­nies, called loca­tion aggre­ga­tors, who then sell it to spe­cif­ic clients and indus­tries. Last year, one loca­tion aggre­ga­tor called Loca­tion­S­mart faced harsh crit­i­cism for sell­ing data that ulti­mate­ly end­ed up in the hands of Secu­rus, a com­pa­ny which pro­vid­ed phone track­ing to low lev­el enforce­ment with­out requir­ing a war­rant. Loca­tion­S­mart also exposed the very data it was sell­ing through a bug­gy web­site pan­el, mean­ing any­one could geolo­cate near­ly any phone in the Unit­ed States at a click of a mouse.”

    So the tele­coms sell your loca­tion data to “loca­tion aggre­ga­tors”, who are sup­posed to just sell the data to spe­cif­ic clients and indus­tries. But as a report from last year revealed, that data from one aggre­ga­tor, Loca­tion­S­mart, was get­ting resold to com­pa­nies like Secu­rus, which was reselling to pret­ty much any­one online.

    This time, Vice Moth­er­board dis­cov­ered that Secu­rus was not an anom­aly. Micro­bilt is engag­ing in a sim­i­lar prac­tices of buy­ing this data from the loca­tion aggre­ga­tor Zumi­go, and just resells it to whomev­er:

    ...
    Where­as it’s com­mon knowl­edge that law enforce­ment agen­cies can track phones with a war­rant to ser­vice providers, IMSI catch­ers, or until recent­ly via oth­er com­pa­nies that sell loca­tion data such as one called Secu­rus, at least one com­pa­ny, called Micro­bilt, is sell­ing phone geolo­ca­tion ser­vices with lit­tle over­sight to a spread of dif­fer­ent pri­vate indus­tries, rang­ing from car sales­men and prop­er­ty man­agers to bail bonds­men and boun­ty hunters, accord­ing to sources famil­iar with the company’s prod­ucts and com­pa­ny doc­u­ments obtained by Moth­er­board. Com­pound­ing that already high­ly ques­tion­able busi­ness prac­tice, this spy­ing capa­bil­i­ty is also being resold to oth­ers on the black mar­ket who are not licensed by the com­pa­ny to use it, includ­ing me, seem­ing­ly with­out Microbilt’s knowl­edge.

    Motherboard’s inves­ti­ga­tion shows just how exposed mobile net­works and the data they gen­er­ate are, leav­ing them open to sur­veil­lance by ordi­nary cit­i­zens, stalk­ers, and crim­i­nals, and comes as media and pol­i­cy mak­ers are pay­ing more atten­tion than ever to how loca­tion and oth­er sen­si­tive data is col­lect­ed and sold. The inves­ti­ga­tion also shows that a wide vari­ety of com­pa­nies can access cell phone loca­tion data, and that the infor­ma­tion trick­les down from cell phone providers to a wide array of small­er play­ers, who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have the cor­rect safe­guards in place to pro­tect that data.
    ...

    There’s a com­plex sup­ply chain that shares some of Amer­i­can cell phone users’ most sen­si­tive data, with the tel­cos poten­tial­ly being unaware of how the data is being used by the even­tu­al end user, or even whose hands it lands in. Finan­cial com­pa­nies use phone loca­tion data to detect fraud; road­side assis­tance firms use it to locate stuck cus­tomers. But AT&T, for exam­ple, told Moth­er­board the use of its cus­tomers’ data by boun­ty hunters goes explic­it­ly against the company’s poli­cies, rais­ing ques­tions about how AT&T allowed the sale for this pur­pose in the first place.

    ...

    In the case of the phone we tracked, six dif­fer­ent enti­ties had poten­tial access to the phone’s data. T‑Mobile shares loca­tion data with an aggre­ga­tor called Zumi­go, which shares infor­ma­tion with Micro­bilt. Micro­bilt shared that data with a cus­tomer using its mobile phone track­ing prod­uct. The boun­ty hunter then shared this infor­ma­tion with a bail indus­try source, who shared it with Moth­er­board.
    ...

    And the ser­vices offered by these com­pa­nies aren’t lim­it­ed to the loca­tion of the smart­phone at the time you request it. You can can con­tin­u­ous track­ing ser­vices too. For as lit­tle as $12.95 per phone for real-time updates:

    ...
    Micro­bilt buys access to loca­tion data from an aggre­ga­tor called Zumi­go and then sells it to a dizzy­ing num­ber of sec­tors, includ­ing land­lords to scope out poten­tial renters; motor vehi­cle sales­men, and oth­ers who are con­duct­ing cred­it checks. Armed with just a phone num­ber, Microbilt’s “Mobile Device Ver­i­fy” prod­uct can return a target’s full name and address, geolo­cate a phone in an indi­vid­ual instance, or oper­ate as a con­tin­u­ous track­ing ser­vice.

    “You can set up mon­i­tor­ing with con­trol over the weeks, days and even hours that loca­tion on a device is checked as well as the start and end dates of mon­i­tor­ing,” a com­pa­ny brochure Moth­er­board found online reads.

    Pos­ing as a poten­tial cus­tomer, Moth­er­board explic­it­ly asked a Micro­bilt cus­tomer sup­port staffer whether the com­pa­ny offered phone geolo­ca­tion for bail bonds­men. Short­ly after, anoth­er staffer emailed with a price list—locat­ing a phone can cost as lit­tle as $4.95 each if search­ing for a low num­ber of devices. That price gets even cheap­er as the cus­tomer buys the capa­bil­i­ty to track more phones. Get­ting real-time updates on a phone’s loca­tion can cost around $12.95.

    “Dirt cheap when you think about the data you can get,” the source famil­iar with the indus­try added.

    ...

    The bail indus­try source said his mid­dle­man used Micro­bilt to find the phone. This mid­dle­man charged $300, a size­able markup on the usu­al Micro­bilt price. The Google Maps screen­shot pro­vid­ed to Moth­er­board of the tar­get phone’s loca­tion also includ­ed its approx­i­mate lon­gi­tude and lat­i­tude coor­di­nates, and a range of how accu­rate the phone geolo­ca­tion is: 0.3 miles, or just under 500 metres. It may not nec­es­sar­i­ly be enough to geolo­cate some­one to a spe­cif­ic build­ing in a pop­u­lat­ed area, but it can cer­tain­ly pin­point a par­tic­u­lar bor­ough, city, or neigh­bor­hood.

    ...

    The bail source who orig­i­nal­ly alert­ed Micro­bilt to Moth­er­board said that boun­ty hunters have used phone geolo­ca­tion ser­vices for non-work pur­pos­es, such as track­ing their girl­friends. Moth­er­board was unable to iden­ti­fy a spe­cif­ic instance of this hap­pen­ing, but domes­tic stalk­ers have repeat­ed­ly used tech­nol­o­gy, such as mobile phone mal­ware, to track spous­es.
    ...

    And, of course, the tele­com com­pa­nies assure us that they are look­ing into this and will cut off access to this kind of infor­ma­tion to irre­spon­si­ble loca­tion aggre­ga­tors. Which should sound famil­iar since that’s exact­ly what they said after Secu­rus’s prac­tices were revealed last year in the face of pres­sure from Con­gress:

    ...
    AT&T told Moth­er­board it has cut access to Micro­bilt as the com­pa­ny inves­ti­gates.

    “We only per­mit the shar­ing of loca­tion when a cus­tomer gives per­mis­sion for cas­es like fraud pre­ven­tion or emer­gency road­side assis­tance, or when required by law,” the AT&T spokesper­son said.

    Sprint told Moth­er­board in a state­ment that “pro­tect­ing our cus­tomers’ pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty is a top pri­or­i­ty, and we are trans­par­ent about that in our Pri­va­cy Pol­i­cy [...] Sprint does not have a direct rela­tion­ship with Micro­Bilt. If we deter­mine that any of our cus­tomers do and have vio­lat­ed the terms of our con­tract, we will take appro­pri­ate action based on those find­ings.” Sprint would not clar­i­fy the con­tours of its rela­tion­ship with Micro­bilt.

    These state­ments sound very famil­iar. When The New York Times and Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden pub­lished details of Secu­rus last year, the firm that was offer­ing geolo­ca­tion to low lev­el law enforce­ment with­out a war­rant, the tel­cos said they were tak­ing extra mea­sures to make sure their cus­tomers’ data would not be abused again. Ver­i­zon announced it was going to lim­it data access to com­pa­nies not using it for legit­i­mate pur­pos­es. T‑Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T fol­lowed suit short­ly after with sim­i­lar promis­es.

    After Wyden’s pres­sure, T‑Mobile’s CEO John Leg­ere tweet­ed in June last year “I’ve per­son­al­ly eval­u­at­ed this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell cus­tomer loca­tion data to shady mid­dle­men.”

    Months after the tel­cos said they were going to com­bat this prob­lem, in the face of an arguably even worse case of abuse and data trad­ing, they are say­ing much the same thing. Last year, Moth­er­board report­ed on a com­pa­ny that pre­vi­ous­ly offered phone geolo­ca­tion to boun­ty hunters; here Micro­bilt is oper­at­ing even after a wave of out­rage from pol­i­cy mak­ers. In its state­ment to Moth­er­board on Mon­day, T‑Mobile said it has near­ly fin­ished the process of ter­mi­nat­ing its agree­ments with loca­tion aggre­ga­tors.

    “It would be bad if this was the first time we learned about it. It’s not. Every major wire­less car­ri­er pledged to end this kind of data shar­ing after I exposed this prac­tice last year. Now it appears these promis­es were lit­tle more than worth­less spam in their cus­tomers’ inbox­es,” Wyden told Moth­er­board in a state­ment. Wyden is propos­ing leg­is­la­tion to safe­guard per­son­al data.
    ...

    So what’s to be done? Well, since this indus­try is appar­ent­ly going to keep doing this as long as it’s allowed to do so and is prof­itable, reg­u­lat­ing the indus­try seems like the obvi­ous answer:

    ...
    A sec­ond source who has tracked the geolo­ca­tion indus­try told Moth­er­board, while talk­ing about the indus­try gen­er­al­ly, “If there is mon­ey to be made they will keep sell­ing the data.”

    “Those third-lev­el com­pa­nies sell their ser­vices. That is where you see the issues with going to shady folks [and] for shady rea­sons,” the source added.

    Fred­erike Kalthe­uner, data exploita­tion pro­gramme lead at cam­paign group Pri­va­cy Inter­na­tion­al, told Moth­er­board in a phone call that “it’s part of a big­ger prob­lem; the US has a com­plete­ly unreg­u­lat­ed data ecosys­tem.”
    ...

    If there is mon­ey to be made they will keep sell­ing the data.” And “it’s part of a big­ger prob­lem; the US has a com­plete­ly unreg­u­lat­ed data ecosys­tem.” Those seem like two pret­ty com­pelling rea­sons for seri­ous new reg­u­la­tions.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 11, 2019, 2:12 pm
  11. Fol­low­ing up on the creepy sto­ry about the grow­ing indus­try of sell­ing loca­tion-data col­lect­ed from cell­phone ser­vice providers like T‑mobile and AT&T, here’s a New York Times arti­cle from last month that address­es the exten­sive amount of data col­lect­ed by smart­phone apps. Among the many fun fact in the arti­cle, we learn that Google’s Android oper­at­ing sys­tem allows apps not in use to col­lect loca­tion data “a few times an hour”, instead of con­tin­u­ous­ly when the app is run­ning. So if you are assum­ing that your smart­phone apps are only spy­ing on you when they’re actu­al­ly run­ning you might want to change those assump­tions.

    The Times dis­cov­ered at least 75 com­pa­nies that receive anony­mous app data. And we learn that Peter Thiel is an investor in one of those com­pa­nies. As we’re going to see, that com­pa­ny, Safe­Graph, has plans of offer­ing its loca­tion ser­vices to gov­ern­ment agen­cies. So giv­en that Thiel’s Palan­tir is already a major nation­al lse­cu­ri­ty con­trac­tor spe­cial­iz­ing in Big Data analy­sis for a vari­ety of cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment clients, the ques­tion of whether or not all of this loca­tion data is being fed into those pri­va­tized intel­li­gence data bases like Palan­tir’s is a pret­ty big ques­tion.

    We also learn the approx­i­mate costs loca­tion aggre­ga­tors are pay­ing for access to user loca­tion data:
    about half a cent to two cents per user per month. That’s the price of one of your most inti­mate types of data:

    The New York times

    Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keep­ing It Secret
    Dozens of com­pa­nies use smart­phone loca­tions to help adver­tis­ers and even hedge funds. They say it’s anony­mous, but the data shows how per­son­al it is.

    By JENNIFER VALENTI­NO-DeVRIES, NATASHA SINGER, MICHAEL H. KELLER and AARON KROLIK
    DEC. 10, 2018

    The mil­lions of dots on the map trace high­ways, side streets and bike trails — each one fol­low­ing the path of an anony­mous cell­phone user.

    One path tracks some­one from a home out­side Newark to a near­by Planned Par­ent­hood, remain­ing there for more than an hour. Anoth­er rep­re­sents a per­son who trav­els with the may­or of New York dur­ing the day and returns to Long Island at night.

    Yet anoth­er leaves a house in upstate New York at 7 a.m. and trav­els to a mid­dle school 14 miles away, stay­ing until late after­noon each school day. Only one per­son makes that trip: Lisa Magrin, a 46-year-old math teacher. Her smart­phone goes with her.

    An app on the device gath­ered her loca­tion infor­ma­tion, which was then sold with­out her knowl­edge. It record­ed her where­abouts as often as every two sec­onds, accord­ing to a data­base of more than a mil­lion phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Ms. Magrin’s iden­ti­ty was not dis­closed in those records, The Times was able to eas­i­ly con­nect her to that dot.

    The app tracked her as she went to a Weight Watch­ers meet­ing and to her dermatologist’s office for a minor pro­ce­dure. It fol­lowed her hik­ing with her dog and stay­ing at her ex-boyfriend’s home, infor­ma­tion she found dis­turb­ing.

    “It’s the thought of peo­ple find­ing out those inti­mate details that you don’t want peo­ple to know,” said Ms. Magrin, who allowed The Times to review her loca­tion data.

    Like many con­sumers, Ms. Magrin knew that apps could track people’s move­ments. But as smart­phones have become ubiq­ui­tous and tech­nol­o­gy more accu­rate, an indus­try of snoop­ing on people’s dai­ly habits has spread and grown more intru­sive.

    At least 75 com­pa­nies receive anony­mous, pre­cise loca­tion data from apps whose users enable loca­tion ser­vices to get local news and weath­er or oth­er infor­ma­tion, The Times found. Sev­er­al of those busi­ness­es claim to track up to 200 mil­lion mobile devices in the Unit­ed States — about half those in use last year. The data­base reviewed by The Times — a sam­ple of infor­ma­tion gath­ered in 2017 and held by one com­pa­ny — reveals people’s trav­els in star­tling detail, accu­rate to with­in a few yards and in some cas­es updat­ed more than 14,000 times a day.

    These com­pa­nies sell, use or ana­lyze the data to cater to adver­tis­ers, retail out­lets and even hedge funds seek­ing insights into con­sumer behav­ior. It’s a hot mar­ket, with sales of loca­tion-tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing reach­ing an esti­mat­ed $21 bil­lion this year. IBM has got­ten into the indus­try, with its pur­chase of the Weath­er Channel’s apps. The social net­work Foursquare remade itself as a loca­tion mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny. Promi­nent investors in loca­tion start-ups include Gold­man Sachs and Peter Thiel, the Pay­Pal co-founder.

    Busi­ness­es say their inter­est is in the pat­terns, not the iden­ti­ties, that the data reveals about con­sumers. They note that the infor­ma­tion apps col­lect is tied not to someone’s name or phone num­ber but to a unique ID. But those with access to the raw data — includ­ing employ­ees or clients — could still iden­ti­fy a per­son with­out con­sent. They could fol­low some­one they knew, by pin­point­ing a phone that reg­u­lar­ly spent time at that person’s home address. Or, work­ing in reverse, they could attach a name to an anony­mous dot, by see­ing where the device spent nights and using pub­lic records to fig­ure out who lived there.

    Many loca­tion com­pa­nies say that when phone users enable loca­tion ser­vices, their data is fair game. But, The Times found, the expla­na­tions peo­ple see when prompt­ed to give per­mis­sion are often incom­plete or mis­lead­ing. An app may tell users that grant­i­ng access to their loca­tion will help them get traf­fic infor­ma­tion, but not men­tion that the data will be shared and sold. That dis­clo­sure is often buried in a vague pri­va­cy pol­i­cy.

    “Loca­tion infor­ma­tion can reveal some of the most inti­mate details of a person’s life — whether you’ve vis­it­ed a psy­chi­a­trist, whether you went to an A.A. meet­ing, who you might date,” said Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden, Demo­c­rat of Ore­gon, who has pro­posed bills to lim­it the col­lec­tion and sale of such data, which are large­ly unreg­u­lat­ed in the Unit­ed States.

    “It’s not right to have con­sumers kept in the dark about how their data is sold and shared and then leave them unable to do any­thing about it,” he added.

    Mobile Sur­veil­lance Devices

    After Elise Lee, a nurse in Man­hat­tan, saw that her device had been tracked to the main oper­at­ing room at the hos­pi­tal where she works, she expressed con­cern about her pri­va­cy and that of her patients.

    “It’s very scary,” said Ms. Lee, who allowed The Times to exam­ine her loca­tion his­to­ry in the data set it reviewed. “It feels like some­one is fol­low­ing me, per­son­al­ly.”

    The mobile loca­tion indus­try began as a way to cus­tomize apps and tar­get ads for near­by busi­ness­es, but it has mor­phed into a data col­lec­tion and analy­sis machine.

    Retail­ers look to track­ing com­pa­nies to tell them about their own cus­tomers and their com­peti­tors’. For a web sem­i­nar last year, Eli­na Green­stein, an exec­u­tive at the loca­tion com­pa­ny GroundTruth, mapped out the path of a hypo­thet­i­cal con­sumer from home to work to show poten­tial clients how track­ing could reveal a person’s pref­er­ences. For exam­ple, some­one may search online for healthy recipes, but GroundTruth can see that the per­son often eats at fast-food restau­rants.

    “We look to under­stand who a per­son is, based on where they’ve been and where they’re going, in order to influ­ence what they’re going to do next,” Ms. Green­stein said.

    Finan­cial firms can use the infor­ma­tion to make invest­ment deci­sions before a com­pa­ny reports earn­ings — see­ing, for exam­ple, if more peo­ple are work­ing on a fac­to­ry floor, or going to a retailer’s stores.

    Health care facil­i­ties are among the more entic­ing but trou­bling areas for track­ing, as Ms. Lee’s reac­tion demon­strat­ed. Tell All Dig­i­tal, a Long Island adver­tis­ing firm that is a client of a loca­tion com­pa­ny, says it runs ad cam­paigns for per­son­al injury lawyers tar­get­ing peo­ple anony­mous­ly in emer­gency rooms.

    “The book ‘1984,’ we’re kind of liv­ing it in a lot of ways,” said Bill Kakis, a man­ag­ing part­ner at Tell All.

    Jails, schools, a mil­i­tary base and a nuclear pow­er plant — even crime scenes — appeared in the data set The Times reviewed. One per­son, per­haps a detec­tive, arrived at the site of a late-night homi­cide in Man­hat­tan, then spent time at a near­by hos­pi­tal, return­ing repeat­ed­ly to the local police sta­tion.

    Two loca­tion firms, Fys­i­cal and Safe­Graph, mapped peo­ple attend­ing the 2017 pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion. On Fysical’s map, a bright red box near the Capi­tol steps indi­cat­ed the gen­er­al loca­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump and those around him, cell­phones ping­ing away. Fysical’s chief exec­u­tive said in an email that the data it used was anony­mous. Safe­Graph did not respond to requests for com­ment.

    More than 1,000 pop­u­lar apps con­tain loca­tion-shar­ing code from such com­pa­nies, accord­ing to 2018 data from MightySig­nal, a mobile analy­sis firm. Google’s Android sys­tem was found to have about 1,200 apps with such code, com­pared with about 200 on Apple’s iOS.

    The most pro­lif­ic com­pa­ny was Reveal Mobile, based in North Car­oli­na, which had loca­tion-gath­er­ing code in more than 500 apps, includ­ing many that pro­vide local news. A Reveal spokesman said that the pop­u­lar­i­ty of its code showed that it helped app devel­op­ers make ad mon­ey and con­sumers get free ser­vices.

    To eval­u­ate loca­tion-shar­ing prac­tices, The Times test­ed 20 apps, most of which had been flagged by researchers and indus­try insid­ers as poten­tial­ly shar­ing the data. Togeth­er, 17 of the apps sent exact lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude to about 70 busi­ness­es. Pre­cise loca­tion data from one app, Weath­er­Bug on iOS, was received by 40 com­pa­nies. When con­tact­ed by The Times, some of the com­pa­nies that received that data described it as “unso­licit­ed” or “inap­pro­pri­ate.”

    Weath­er­Bug, owned by GroundTruth, asks users’ per­mis­sion to col­lect their loca­tion and tells them the infor­ma­tion will be used to per­son­al­ize ads. GroundTruth said that it typ­i­cal­ly sent the data to ad com­pa­nies it worked with, but that if they didn’t want the infor­ma­tion they could ask to stop receiv­ing it.

    The Times also iden­ti­fied more than 25 oth­er com­pa­nies that have said in mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als or inter­views that they sell loca­tion data or ser­vices, includ­ing tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing.

    The spread of this infor­ma­tion rais­es ques­tions about how secure­ly it is han­dled and whether it is vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ing, said Serge Egel­man, a com­put­er secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy researcher affil­i­at­ed with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

    “There are real­ly no con­se­quences” for com­pa­nies that don’t pro­tect the data, he said, “oth­er than bad press that gets for­got­ten about.”

    A Ques­tion of Aware­ness

    Com­pa­nies that use loca­tion data say that peo­ple agree to share their infor­ma­tion in exchange for cus­tomized ser­vices, rewards and dis­counts. Ms. Magrin, the teacher, not­ed that she liked that track­ing tech­nol­o­gy let her record her jog­ging routes.

    Bri­an Wong, chief exec­u­tive of Kiip, a mobile ad firm that has also sold anony­mous data from some of the apps it works with, says users give apps per­mis­sion to use and share their data. “You are receiv­ing these ser­vices for free because adver­tis­ers are help­ing mon­e­tize and pay for it,” he said, adding, “You would have to be pret­ty obliv­i­ous if you are not aware that this is going on.”

    But Ms. Lee, the nurse, had a dif­fer­ent view. “I guess that’s what they have to tell them­selves,” she said of the com­pa­nies. “But come on.”

    Ms. Lee had giv­en apps on her iPhone access to her loca­tion only for cer­tain pur­pos­es — help­ing her find park­ing spaces, send­ing her weath­er alerts — and only if they did not indi­cate that the infor­ma­tion would be used for any­thing else, she said. Ms. Magrin had allowed about a dozen apps on her Android phone access to her where­abouts for ser­vices like traf­fic noti­fi­ca­tions.

    But it is easy to share infor­ma­tion with­out real­iz­ing it. Of the 17 apps that The Times saw send­ing pre­cise loca­tion data, just three on iOS and one on Android told users in a prompt dur­ing the per­mis­sion process that the infor­ma­tion could be used for adver­tis­ing. Only one app, Gas­Bud­dy, which iden­ti­fies near­by gas sta­tions, indi­cat­ed that data could also be shared to “ana­lyze indus­try trends.”

    More typ­i­cal was theScore, a sports app: When prompt­ing users to grant access to their loca­tion, it said the data would help “rec­om­mend local teams and play­ers that are rel­e­vant to you.” The app passed pre­cise coor­di­nates to 16 adver­tis­ing and loca­tion com­pa­nies.

    A spokesman for theScore said that the lan­guage in the prompt was intend­ed only as a “quick intro­duc­tion to cer­tain key prod­uct fea­tures” and that the full uses of the data were described in the app’s pri­va­cy pol­i­cy.

    The Weath­er Chan­nel app, owned by an IBM sub­sidiary, told users that shar­ing their loca­tions would let them get per­son­al­ized local weath­er reports. IBM said the sub­sidiary, the Weath­er Com­pa­ny, dis­cussed oth­er uses in its pri­va­cy pol­i­cy and in a sep­a­rate “pri­va­cy set­tings” sec­tion of the app. Infor­ma­tion on adver­tis­ing was includ­ed there, but a part of the app called “loca­tion set­tings” made no men­tion of it.

    The app did not explic­it­ly dis­close that the com­pa­ny had also ana­lyzed the data for hedge funds — a pilot pro­gram that was pro­mot­ed on the company’s web­site. An IBM spokesman said the pilot had end­ed. (IBM updat­ed the app’s pri­va­cy pol­i­cy on Dec. 5, after queries from The Times, to say that it might share aggre­gat­ed loca­tion data for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es such as ana­lyz­ing foot traf­fic.)

    Even indus­try insid­ers acknowl­edge that many peo­ple either don’t read those poli­cies or may not ful­ly under­stand their opaque lan­guage. Poli­cies for apps that fun­nel loca­tion infor­ma­tion to help invest­ment firms, for instance, have said the data is used for mar­ket analy­sis, or sim­ply shared for busi­ness pur­pos­es.

    “Most peo­ple don’t know what’s going on,” said Emmett Kil­duff, the chief exec­u­tive of Eagle Alpha, which sells data to finan­cial firms and hedge funds. Mr. Kil­duff said respon­si­bil­i­ty for com­ply­ing with data-gath­er­ing reg­u­la­tions fell to the com­pa­nies that col­lect­ed it from peo­ple.

    Many loca­tion com­pa­nies say they vol­un­tar­i­ly take steps to pro­tect users’ pri­va­cy, but poli­cies vary wide­ly.

    For exam­ple, Sense360, which focus­es on the restau­rant indus­try, says it scram­bles data with­in a 1,000-foot square around the device’s approx­i­mate home loca­tion. Anoth­er com­pa­ny, Fac­tu­al, says that it col­lects data from con­sumers at home, but that its data­base doesn’t con­tain their address­es.

    Some com­pa­nies say they delete the loca­tion data after using it to serve ads, some use it for ads and pass it along to data aggre­ga­tion com­pa­nies, and oth­ers keep the infor­ma­tion for years.

    Sev­er­al peo­ple in the loca­tion busi­ness said that it would be rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple to fig­ure out indi­vid­ual iden­ti­ties in this kind of data, but that they didn’t do it. Oth­ers sug­gest­ed it would require so much effort that hack­ers wouldn’t both­er.

    It “would take an enor­mous amount of resources,” said Bill Dad­di, a spokesman for Cue­biq, which ana­lyzes anony­mous loca­tion data to help retail­ers and oth­ers, and raised more than $27 mil­lion this year from investors includ­ing Gold­man Sachs and Nas­daq Ven­tures. Nev­er­the­less, Cue­biq encrypts its infor­ma­tion, logs employ­ee queries and sells aggre­gat­ed analy­sis, he said.

    There is no fed­er­al law lim­it­ing the col­lec­tion or use of such data. Still, apps that ask for access to users’ loca­tions, prompt­ing them for per­mis­sion while leav­ing out impor­tant details about how the data will be used, may run afoul of fed­er­al rules on decep­tive busi­ness prac­tices, said Manee­sha Mithal, a pri­va­cy offi­cial at the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion.

    “You can’t cure a mis­lead­ing just-in-time dis­clo­sure with infor­ma­tion in a pri­va­cy pol­i­cy,” Ms. Mithal said.

    Fol­low­ing the Mon­ey

    Apps form the back­bone of this new loca­tion data econ­o­my.

    The app devel­op­ers can make mon­ey by direct­ly sell­ing their data, or by shar­ing it for loca­tion-based ads, which com­mand a pre­mi­um. Loca­tion data com­pa­nies pay half a cent to two cents per user per month, accord­ing to offer let­ters to app mak­ers reviewed by The Times.

    Tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing is by far the most com­mon use of the infor­ma­tion.

    Google and Face­book, which dom­i­nate the mobile ad mar­ket, also lead in loca­tion-based adver­tis­ing. Both com­pa­nies col­lect the data from their own apps. They say they don’t sell it but keep it for them­selves to per­son­al­ize their ser­vices, sell tar­get­ed ads across the inter­net and track whether the ads lead to sales at brick-and-mor­tar stores. Google, which also receives pre­cise loca­tion infor­ma­tion from apps that use its ad ser­vices, said it mod­i­fied that data to make it less exact.

    Small­er com­pa­nies com­pete for the rest of the mar­ket, includ­ing by sell­ing data and analy­sis to finan­cial insti­tu­tions. This seg­ment of the indus­try is small but grow­ing, expect­ed to reach about $250 mil­lion a year by 2020, accord­ing to the mar­ket research firm Opi­mas.

    Apple and Google have a finan­cial inter­est in keep­ing devel­op­ers hap­py, but both have tak­en steps to lim­it loca­tion data col­lec­tion. In the most recent ver­sion of Android, apps that are not in use can col­lect loca­tions “a few times an hour,” instead of con­tin­u­ous­ly.

    Apple has been stricter, for exam­ple requir­ing apps to jus­ti­fy col­lect­ing loca­tion details in pop-up mes­sages. But Apple’s instruc­tions for writ­ing these pop-ups do not men­tion adver­tis­ing or data sale, only fea­tures like get­ting “esti­mat­ed trav­el times.”

    A spokesman said the com­pa­ny man­dates that devel­op­ers use the data only to pro­vide a ser­vice direct­ly rel­e­vant to the app, or to serve adver­tis­ing that met Apple’s guide­lines.

    Apple recent­ly shelved plans that indus­try insid­ers say would have sig­nif­i­cant­ly cur­tailed loca­tion col­lec­tion. Last year, the com­pa­ny said an upcom­ing ver­sion of iOS would show a blue bar onscreen when­ev­er an app not in use was gain­ing access to loca­tion data.

    The dis­cus­sion served as a “warn­ing shot” to peo­ple in the loca­tion indus­try, David Shim, chief exec­u­tive of the loca­tion com­pa­ny Placed, said at an indus­try event last year.

    ...

    ———-

    “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keep­ing It Secret” by JENNIFER VALENTI­NO-DeVRIES, NATASHA SINGER, MICHAEL H. KELLER and AARON KROLIK; The New York times; 12/10/2018

    “These com­pa­nies sell, use or ana­lyze the data to cater to adver­tis­ers, retail out­lets and even hedge funds seek­ing insights into con­sumer behav­ior. It’s a hot mar­ket, with sales of loca­tion-tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing reach­ing an esti­mat­ed $21 bil­lion this year. IBM has got­ten into the indus­try, with its pur­chase of the Weath­er Channel’s apps. The social net­work Foursquare remade itself as a loca­tion mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny. Promi­nent investors in loca­tion start-ups include Gold­man Sachs and Peter Thiel, the Pay­Pal co-founder.”

    $21 bil­lion a year in loca­tion-tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing. That’s the size of the indus­try that relies on loca­tion data. So it should prob­a­bly come as no sur­prise that apps were found to be col­lect­ing data on indi­vid­u­als as often as every two sec­onds, mak­ing the deanonymiza­tion of this data triv­ial in many cas­es:

    ...
    An app on the device gath­ered her loca­tion infor­ma­tion, which was then sold with­out her knowl­edge. It record­ed her where­abouts as often as every two sec­onds, accord­ing to a data­base of more than a mil­lion phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Ms. Magrin’s iden­ti­ty was not dis­closed in those records, The Times was able to eas­i­ly con­nect her to that dot.

    The app tracked her as she went to a Weight Watch­ers meet­ing and to her dermatologist’s office for a minor pro­ce­dure. It fol­lowed her hik­ing with her dog and stay­ing at her ex-boyfriend’s home, infor­ma­tion she found dis­turb­ing.

    “It’s the thought of peo­ple find­ing out those inti­mate details that you don’t want peo­ple to know,” said Ms. Magrin, who allowed The Times to review her loca­tion data.

    ...

    Busi­ness­es say their inter­est is in the pat­terns, not the iden­ti­ties, that the data reveals about con­sumers. They note that the infor­ma­tion apps col­lect is tied not to someone’s name or phone num­ber but to a unique ID. But those with access to the raw data — includ­ing employ­ees or clients — could still iden­ti­fy a per­son with­out con­sent. They could fol­low some­one they knew, by pin­point­ing a phone that reg­u­lar­ly spent time at that person’s home address. Or, work­ing in reverse, they could attach a name to an anony­mous dot, by see­ing where the device spent nights and using pub­lic records to fig­ure out who lived there.
    ...

    And of the 75 com­pa­nies the Times from that received this kind of data, sev­er­al of them claimed to track up to 200 mil­lion mobile devices in the US alone and about of them were in use last year. So for some of these loca­tion aggre­ga­tors, a mas­sive por­tion of all the smart­phones in the US were get­ting tracked by them:

    ...
    At least 75 com­pa­nies receive anony­mous, pre­cise loca­tion data from apps whose users enable loca­tion ser­vices to get local news and weath­er or oth­er infor­ma­tion, The Times found. Sev­er­al of those busi­ness­es claim to track up to 200 mil­lion mobile devices in the Unit­ed States — about half those in use last year. The data­base reviewed by The Times — a sam­ple of infor­ma­tion gath­ered in 2017 and held by one com­pa­ny — reveals people’s trav­els in star­tling detail, accu­rate to with­in a few yards and in some cas­es updat­ed more than 14,000 times a day.
    ...

    Apps for Google’s Android OS were par­tic­u­lar­ly grab­by, which is no sur­prise giv­en that Android appears to be built to facil­i­tate this kind of data col­lec­tion. In the most recent ver­sion of Android apps that are not in use can still col­lect loca­tions “a few times an hour”:

    ...
    More than 1,000 pop­u­lar apps con­tain loca­tion-shar­ing code from such com­pa­nies, accord­ing to 2018 data from MightySig­nal, a mobile analy­sis firm. Google’s Android sys­tem was found to have about 1,200 apps with such code, com­pared with about 200 on Apple’s iOS.

    ...

    Apple and Google have a finan­cial inter­est in keep­ing devel­op­ers hap­py, but both have tak­en steps to lim­it loca­tion data col­lec­tion. In the most recent ver­sion of Android, apps that are not in use can col­lect loca­tions “a few times an hour,” instead of con­tin­u­ous­ly.

    Apple has been stricter, for exam­ple requir­ing apps to jus­ti­fy col­lect­ing loca­tion details in pop-up mes­sages. But Apple’s instruc­tions for writ­ing these pop-ups do not men­tion adver­tis­ing or data sale, only fea­tures like get­ting “esti­mat­ed trav­el times.”
    ...

    And with no fed­er­al US law lim­it­ing the col­lec­tion or use of this kind of data, the mar­ket is only going to con­tin­ue to explode. Espe­cial­ly since it appears to costs just pen­nies a month for access to this kind of data per user per month:

    ...
    There is no fed­er­al law lim­it­ing the col­lec­tion or use of such data. Still, apps that ask for access to users’ loca­tions, prompt­ing them for per­mis­sion while leav­ing out impor­tant details about how the data will be used, may run afoul of fed­er­al rules on decep­tive busi­ness prac­tices, said Manee­sha Mithal, a pri­va­cy offi­cial at the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion.

    “You can’t cure a mis­lead­ing just-in-time dis­clo­sure with infor­ma­tion in a pri­va­cy pol­i­cy,” Ms. Mithal said.

    ...

    Fol­low­ing the Mon­ey

    Apps form the back­bone of this new loca­tion data econ­o­my.

    The app devel­op­ers can make mon­ey by direct­ly sell­ing their data, or by shar­ing it for loca­tion-based ads, which com­mand a pre­mi­um. Loca­tion data com­pa­nies pay half a cent to two cents per user per month, accord­ing to offer let­ters to app mak­ers reviewed by The Times.

    Tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing is by far the most com­mon use of the infor­ma­tion.

    Google and Face­book, which dom­i­nate the mobile ad mar­ket, also lead in loca­tion-based adver­tis­ing. Both com­pa­nies col­lect the data from their own apps. They say they don’t sell it but keep it for them­selves to per­son­al­ize their ser­vices, sell tar­get­ed ads across the inter­net and track whether the ads lead to sales at brick-and-mor­tar stores. Google, which also receives pre­cise loca­tion infor­ma­tion from apps that use its ad ser­vices, said it mod­i­fied that data to make it less exact.

    Small­er com­pa­nies com­pete for the rest of the mar­ket, includ­ing by sell­ing data and analy­sis to finan­cial insti­tu­tions. This seg­ment of the indus­try is small but grow­ing, expect­ed to reach about $250 mil­lion a year by 2020, accord­ing to the mar­ket research firm Opi­mas.
    ...

    And while tar­get­ing adver­tis­ing is the most com­mon use of this kind of infor­ma­tion, keep in mind that this is a spy’s dream mar­ket. For exam­ple, two dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, Fys­i­cal and Safe­Graph, mapped peo­ple attend­ing the 2017 Pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion, with Trump’s phone and those around him ping­ing away the entire time:

    ...
    Two loca­tion firms, Fys­i­cal and Safe­Graph, mapped peo­ple attend­ing the 2017 pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion. On Fysical’s map, a bright red box near the Capi­tol steps indi­cat­ed the gen­er­al loca­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump and those around him, cell­phones ping­ing away. Fysical’s chief exec­u­tive said in an email that the data it used was anony­mous. Safe­Graph did not respond to requests for com­ment.
    ...

    Safe­Graph hap­pens to be one of the loca­tion aggre­ga­tors Peter Thiel has invest­ed in. And giv­en that Thiel’s Palan­tir is exact­ly the kind of com­pa­ny that would want to use this kind of data for all sorts of intel­li­gence uses — for its many cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment clients — the fact that Safe­Graph was mon­i­tor­ing the pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not it was using that data as part of some sort of secu­ri­ty ser­vice for the gov­ern­ment or some sort of intel­li­gence col­lec­tion ser­vice for pri­vate clients. It’s a ques­tion with­out an obvi­ous answer because, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle about Safe­Graph notes, in addi­tion to its many cor­po­rate clients, Safe­Graph “plans to wade into some thorny busi­ness cat­e­gories, like gov­ern­ment agency work and heav­i­ly reg­u­lat­ed spaces like city devel­op­ment, dri­ver­less cars and traf­fic man­age­ment.” And Peter Thiel hap­pens to be one of Safe­Graphs ear­ly investors:

    Ad Exchang­er

    Investors From Ad Tech And Pol­i­tics Con­tribute To Safe­Graph’s $16M Series A

    by James Hercher // Wednes­day, April 19th, 2017 – 1:14 pm

    The start­up data man­age­ment plat­form Safe­Graph will emerge from an extend­ed beta peri­od Wednes­day with a $16 mil­lion Series A invest­ment and its first prod­uct, which tracks and ana­lyzes human move­ment in pub­lic places.

    Safe­Graph isn’t dis­clos­ing any ini­tial part­ners or clients, but CEO Auren Hoff­man told AdEx­chang­er the company’s busi­ness devel­op­ment plans include adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing use cas­es, as well as data ser­vices for urban plan­ners, gov­ern­ment agen­cies, retail­ers and real estate hold­ers.

    Safe­Graph is backed by an army of tech­nol­o­gy and pol­i­cy advis­ers.

    Hoff­man, a co-founder and for­mer CEO of Liv­eR­amp, brought on more than 30 col­leagues from Liv­eR­amp, as well as all five cor­po­rate lead­ers at Acx­iom: CEO Scott Howe, CFO War­ren Jen­son, Audi­ence Solu­tions Pres­i­dent Rick Erwin, exec­u­tive VP Jer­ry Jones and Liv­eR­amp CEO Travis May.

    Hoff­man also has back­ers from across the ad tech indus­try, includ­ing the cur­rent CEOs of App­Nexus, Media­Math, DataXu, Rubi­con Project, Pub­Mat­ic, OpenX, Krux, AppLovin, Turn, Tapad, Draw­bridge, Dat­a­logix, LiveIn­tent, Amobee and the recent­ly acquired Moat.

    App­Nexus CEO Bri­an O’Kelley and Media­Math CEO Joe Zawadz­ki both recent­ly told AdEx­chang­er that they had invest­ed in Safe­Graph with­out any clear sense of the startup’s busi­ness mod­el.

    “We all know each oth­er and have been friends and col­leagues who came up togeth­er,” O’Kelley said last month. “There def­i­nite­ly is an ad tech cabal.”

    On top of that ad tech base, Safe­Graph has sev­er­al well-placed back­ers who can help the com­pa­ny bridge into oth­er data-dri­ven cor­po­rate spheres, like Amer­i­can Express Pres­i­dent Ash Gup­ta and Star­wood Hotels CEO Bar­ry Stern­licht.

    “Some­thing start­ing with (an) ad tech back­ground can actu­al­ly ben­e­fit lots of indus­tries,” Hoff­man said, not­ing that Invite Media’s co-founders sold their dis­play adver­tis­ing tech­nol­o­gy to Google before start­ing Flat­iron Health, a data ana­lyt­ics and man­age­ment plat­form for oncol­o­gy clin­ics.

    And Safe­Graph does have plans to wade into some thorny busi­ness cat­e­gories, like gov­ern­ment agency work and heav­i­ly reg­u­lat­ed spaces like city devel­op­ment, dri­ver­less cars and traf­fic man­age­ment.

    Per­haps the most suc­cess­ful data start­up when it comes to secur­ing major gov­ern­ment data and soft­ware con­tracts is Palan­tir, whose chair­man, Peter Thiel, is also an ear­ly Safe­Graph investor. Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­mer deputy chief of staff, Mona Sut­phen, and for­mer US House Major­i­ty Leader Eric Can­tor, both Safe­Graph investors, pro­vide some across-the-aisle sup­port for any US gov­ern­ment efforts.

    ...

    ———-

    “Investors From Ad Tech And Pol­i­tics Con­tribute To Safe­Graph’s $16M Series A” by James Hercher; Ad Exchang­er; 04/19/2017

    “And Safe­Graph does have plans to wade into some thorny busi­ness cat­e­gories, like gov­ern­ment agency work and heav­i­ly reg­u­lat­ed spaces like city devel­op­ment, dri­ver­less cars and traf­fic man­age­ment.

    City devel­op­ment and gov­ern­ment agency work. Yeah, that’s going to be a ‘thorny’ issue for a loca­tion aggre­ga­tor. But it will prob­a­bly be a lot less thorny for Safe­Graph with some­one like Peter Thiel as one of its ear­ly investors:

    ...
    Per­haps the most suc­cess­ful data start­up when it comes to secur­ing major gov­ern­ment data and soft­ware con­tracts is Palan­tir, whose chair­man, Peter Thiel, is also an ear­ly Safe­Graph investor. Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­mer deputy chief of staff, Mona Sut­phen, and for­mer US House Major­i­ty Leader Eric Can­tor, both Safe­Graph investors, pro­vide some across-the-aisle sup­port for any US gov­ern­ment efforts.
    ...

    Keep in mind that we’ve already learned about Palan­tir incor­po­ra­tion GPS loca­tion data into the ser­vices its pro­vid­ing clients when we learned about the insid­er-threat assess­ment pro­gram Palan­tir was run­ning for JP Mor­gan, although in that case it was loca­tion data pro­vid­ed by the JP Mor­gan’s com­pa­ny cell­phones that it pro­vid­ed its employ­ees. But if Palan­tir’s inter­nal algo­rithms are already set up to incor­po­rate loca­tion data it’s hard to see why the com­pa­ny would­n’t be uti­liz­ing the vast loca­tion data bro­ker­age indus­try that’s offer­ing this data for pen­nies a month.

    So as we can see, the thorny issue of loca­tion aggre­ga­tor com­pa­nies like Safe­Graph sell­ing their data to gov­ern­ment agen­cies is prob­a­bly going to be a lot less thorny that it should be due the fact that Thiel is one of the ear­ly investors in this space and Palan­tir has already had so much suc­cess in these kinds of thorny com­mer­cial areas.

    The fact that there’s no fed­er­al laws reg­u­lat­ing the col­lec­tion and use of this kind of data pre­sum­ably helps with the thorni­ness.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 14, 2019, 12:43 pm
  12. This Dai­ley Mail arti­cle based on an inves­ti­ga­tion exposed by Moth­er­board shows that 250 “boun­ty hunters’ were able to locate pre­cise loca­tion data of cell phone data from at least 3 cel­lu­lar providers (AT&T, T‑Mobile and Sprint). They request­ed loca­tion data 18,000 times. One com­pa­ny, Cer­Care­One oper­at­ed in secret with a con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment from with its pay­ing clients for it to per­form these tasks with­out pub­lic scruti­ny from 2012–2017. This vio­lates the user’s rights and rais­es seri­ous con­fi­den­tial­i­ty con­cerns about cus­tomers of those cel­lu­lar ser­vices.

    Although not stat­ed in the arti­cle, the impli­ca­tions to black­mail politi­cians by know­ing their spe­cif­ic where­abouts or the where­abouts of sus­pect­ed leak­ers or oth­er con­tacts is very con­cern­ing.

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6679889/Bombshell-report-finds-cellphone-carriers-sell-location-data-bounty-hunters.html

    Near­ly every major US cell­phone car­ri­er sold pre­cise loca­tion data to BOUNTY HUNTERS via a ‘secret phone track­ing ser­vice’ for years, bomb­shell report finds
    ¥ AT&T, Sprint, T‑Mobile promised to stop sell­ing user data to loca­tion aggre­ga­tors
    ¥ But a new inves­ti­ga­tion has dis­cov­ered the firms were sell­ing loca­tion data more broad­ly than pre­vi­ous­ly under­stood, with hun­dreds of boun­ty hunters using it
    ¥ One com­pa­ny used ‘A‑GPS’ data to locate where users are inside of a build­ing
    By ANNIE PALMER FOR DAILYMAIL.COM
    PUBLISHED: 15:45 EST, 7 Feb­ru­ary 2019 | UPDATED: 16:11 EST, 7 Feb­ru­ary 2019

    A shock­ing new report has found hun­dreds of boun­ty hunters had access to high­ly sen­si­tive user data — and it was sold to them by almost every major U.S. wire­less car­ri­er.

    The prac­tice was first revealed last month and, at the time, tele­com firms claimed they were iso­lat­ed inci­dents. 

    How­ev­er, a Moth­er­board inves­ti­ga­tion has since dis­cov­ered that’s far from the case. About 250 boun­ty hunters were able to access users’ pre­cise loca­tion data.  

    In one case, a bail bond firm request­ed loca­tion data some 18,000 times.  

    AT&T, T‑Mobile and Sprint sold the sen­si­tive data, which was meant for user by 911 oper­a­tors and emer­gency ser­vices, to loca­tion aggre­ga­tors, who then sold it to boun­ty hunters, accord­ing to Moth­er­board.  

    A shock­ing new report has found hun­dreds of boun­ty hunters had access to high­ly sen­si­tive user data — and it was sold to them by almost every major U.S. wire­less car­ri­er.

    A shock­ing new report has found hun­dreds of boun­ty hunters had access to high­ly sen­si­tive user data — and it was sold to them by almost every major U.S. wire­less car­ri­er

    HOW WERE THEY ABLE TO TRACK A USER’S LOCATION? 
    Moth­er­board first report­ed how boun­ty hunters were sell­ing access to users’ real-time loca­tion data for only a few hun­dred dol­lars.

    Boun­ty hunters obtained the data from loca­tion aggre­ga­tors, who have part­ner­ships with AT&T, Sprint and T‑Mobile. 

    They were able to esti­mate and track a user’s loca­tion by look­ing at ‘pings’ from phones to near­by cell tow­ers. 

    But com­pa­nies could also col­lect assist­ed-GPS, or A‑GPS, which could even guess a user’s loca­tion inside a build­ing. 

    The com­pa­nies pledged last month to stop sell­ing users’ loca­tion data to aggre­ga­tors.  

    Loca­tion aggre­ga­tors col­lect and sell user loca­tion data, some­times to pow­er ser­vices like bank fraud pre­ven­tion and emer­gency road­side assis­tance, as well as online ads and mar­ket­ing deals, which depend on know­ing your where­abouts.  

    Moth­er­board dis­cov­ered last month that boun­ty hunters were using the data to esti­mate a user’s loca­tion by look­ing at ‘pings’ sent from phones to near­by cell tow­ers. 

    But it appears that the data was even more detailed than pre­vi­ous­ly thought.

    Cer­Care­One, a shad­owy com­pa­ny that sold loca­tion data to boun­ty hunters, even claimed to col­lect assist­ed-GPS, or A‑GPS, data. 

    This A‑GPS data was able to pin­point a per­son­’s device so accu­rate­ly that it see where they are in a build­ing. 

    Tele­com com­pa­nies began col­lect­ing this data in order to give 911 oper­a­tors a more approx­i­mate loca­tion for users when they’re both indoors and out­doors. 

    Instead, it was being sold to aggre­ga­tors, who then sold it to bail bonds­men, boun­ty hunters, land­lords and oth­er groups.

    A bail agent in Geor­gia told Moth­er­board it was ‘sole­ly used’ to locate ‘fugi­tives who have jumped bond.’

    Nei­ther AT&T, T‑Mobile nor Sprint explic­it­ly denied sell­ing A‑GPS data, accord­ing to Moth­er­board. 

    Cer­Care­One was essen­tial­ly cloaked in secre­cy when it oper­at­ed between 2012 and 2017, requir­ing its cus­tomers to agree to ‘keep the exis­tence of CerCareOne.com con­fi­den­tial,’ Moth­er­board said. 

    Loca­tion aggre­ga­tors use the data from car­ri­ers to esti­mate a user’s loca­tion by look­ing at ‘pings’ cent to cell tow­ers. But they’ve also been found to sell assist­ed-GPS, or A‑GPS, data, which can pin­point a per­son­’s device so accu­rate­ly they can see where they are in a build­ing”

    The com­pa­ny often charged up to $1,100 every time a cus­tomer request­ed a user’s loca­tion data.  

    Cer­Care­One said it required clients to obtain writ­ten con­sent if they want­ed to track a user, but Moth­er­board found that sev­er­al users received no warn­ing they were being tracked, result­ing in the prac­tice often occur­ring with­out their knowl­edge or agree­ment. 

    While Cer­Care­One is no longer oper­a­tional, its pri­or use and exis­tence by loca­tion aggre­ga­tors rais­es seri­ous con­cerns about how users’ data is being uti­lized by these com­pa­nies. 

    AT&T and oth­er tele­coms sought to min­i­mize the use of Cer­Care­One. 

    ‘We are not aware of any mis­use of this ser­vice which end­ed two years ago,’ the firm told Moth­er­board. 

    ‘We’ve already decid­ed to elim­i­nate all loca­tion aggre­ga­tion services—including those with clear con­sumer benefits—after reports of mis­use by oth­er loca­tion ser­vices involv­ing aggre­ga­tors.’

    At least 15 U.S. sen­a­tors have urged the FCC and the FTC to take action on shad­owy data bro­ker busi­ness­es, accord­ing to Moth­er­board. 

    ‘This scan­dal keeps get­ting worse,’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden told Moth­er­board. 

    ‘Car­ri­ers assured cus­tomers loca­tion track­ing abus­es were iso­lat­ed inci­dents. Now it appears that hun­dreds of peo­ple could track our phones, and they were doing it for years before any­one at the wire­less com­pa­nies took action. 

    ‘That’s more than an over­sight — that’s fla­grant, wil­ful dis­re­gard for the safe­ty and secu­ri­ty of Amer­i­cans,’ he added.  

    Posted by Mary Benton | February 8, 2019, 3:44 pm
  13. Here’s an alarm­ing update on the grow­ing sophis­ti­ca­tion of ‘deep­fake’ video tech­nol­o­gy: Sam­sung just fig­ured out how to cre­ate deep­fake videos using a sin­gle pho­to of a per­son. Pre­vi­ous­ly, deep­fake soft­ware required a large num­ber of pho­tos of some­one from dif­fer­ent angles but with Sam­sung’s approach a sin­gle pho­to is all that is required. Sam­sung lit­er­al­ly deep­faked the Mona Lisa as a demon­stra­tion.

    The new approach isn’t per­fect when only a sin­gle pho­to is avail­able and will still gen­er­ate small notice­able errors. But as the arti­cle notes, those error may not real­ly mat­ter when it comes to the poten­tial pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es of this tech­nol­o­gy because pro­pa­gan­da does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be real­is­tic to be effec­tive as was under­scored over the past day when a crude­ly altered video of House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi slowed down made to make her look drunk went viral on social media and was treat­ed as real:

    CNet

    Sam­sung deep­fake AI could fab­ri­cate a video of you from a sin­gle pro­file pic

    Even the Mona Lisa can be faked.

    By Joan E. Sols­man

    May 24, 2019 7:00 AM PDT

    Imag­ine some­one cre­at­ing a deep­fake video of you sim­ply by steal­ing your Face­book pro­file pic. The bad guys don’t have their hands on that tech yet, but Sam­sung has fig­ured out how to make it hap­pen.

    Soft­ware for cre­at­ing deep­fakes — fab­ri­cat­ed clips that make peo­ple appear to do or say things they nev­er did — usu­al­ly requires big data sets of images in order to cre­ate a real­is­tic forgery. Now Sam­sung has devel­oped a new arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tem that can gen­er­ate a fake clip by feed­ing it as lit­tle as one pho­to.

    The tech­nol­o­gy, of course, can be used for fun, like bring­ing a clas­sic por­trait to life. The Mona Lisa, which exists sole­ly as a sin­gle still image, is ani­mat­ed in three dif­fer­ent clips to demon­strate the new tech­nol­o­gy. A Sam­sung arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence lab in Rus­sia devel­oped the tech­nol­o­gy, which was detailed in a paper ear­li­er this week.

    Here’s the down­side: These kinds of tech­niques and their rapid devel­op­ment also cre­ate risks of mis­in­for­ma­tion, elec­tion tam­per­ing and fraud, accord­ing to Hany Farid, a Dart­mouth researcher who spe­cial­izes in media foren­sics to root out deep­fakes.

    When even a crude­ly doc­tored video of US Speak­er of the House Nan­cy Pelosi can go viral on social media, deep­fakes raise wor­ries that their sophis­ti­ca­tion would make mass decep­tion eas­i­er, since deep­fakes are hard­er to debunk.

    “Fol­low­ing the trend of the past year, this and relat­ed tech­niques require less and less data and are gen­er­at­ing more and more sophis­ti­cat­ed and com­pelling con­tent,” Farid said. Even though Sam­sung’s process can cre­ate visu­al glitch­es, “these results are anoth­er step in the evo­lu­tion of tech­niques ... lead­ing to the cre­ation of mul­ti­me­dia con­tent that will even­tu­al­ly be indis­tin­guish­able from the real thing.”

    Like Pho­to­shop for video on steroids, deep­fake soft­ware pro­duces forg­eries by using machine learn­ing to con­vinc­ing­ly fab­ri­cate a mov­ing, speak­ing human. Though com­put­er manip­u­la­tion of video has exist­ed for decades, deep­fake sys­tems have made doc­tored clips not only eas­i­er to cre­ate but also hard­er to detect. Think of them as pho­to-real­is­tic dig­i­tal pup­pets.

    Lots of deep­fakes, like the one ani­mat­ing the Mona Lisa, are harm­less fun. The tech­nol­o­gy has made pos­si­ble an entire genre of memes, includ­ing one in which Nico­las Cage’s face is placed into movies and TV shows he was­n’t in. But deep­fake tech­nol­o­gy can also be insid­i­ous, such as when it’s used to graft an unsus­pect­ing per­son­’s face into explic­it adult movies, a tech­nique some­times used in revenge porn.

    In its paper, Sam­sung’s AI lab dubbed its cre­ations “real­is­tic neur­al talk­ing heads.” The term “talk­ing heads” refers to the genre of video the sys­tem can cre­ate; it’s sim­i­lar to those video box­es of pun­dits you see on TV news. The word “neur­al” is a nod to neur­al net­works, a type of machine learn­ing that mim­ics the human brain.

    The researchers saw their break­through being used in a host of appli­ca­tions, includ­ing video games, film and TV. “Such abil­i­ty has prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions for telep­res­ence, includ­ing video­con­fer­enc­ing and mul­ti-play­er games, as well as spe­cial effects indus­try,” they wrote.

    The paper was accom­pa­nied by a video show­ing off the team’s cre­ations, which also hap­pened to be scored with a dis­con­cert­ing­ly chill-vibes sound­track.

    Usu­al­ly, a syn­the­sized talk­ing head requires you to train an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tem on a large data set of images of a sin­gle per­son. Because so many pho­tos of an indi­vid­ual were need­ed, deep­fake tar­gets have usu­al­ly been pub­lic fig­ures, such as celebri­ties and politi­cians.

    The Sam­sung sys­tem uses a trick that seems inspired by Alexan­der Gra­ham Bel­l’s famous quote about prepa­ra­tion being the key to suc­cess. The sys­tem starts with a lengthy “meta-learn­ing stage” in which it watch­es lots of videos to learn how human faces move. It then applies what it’s learned to a sin­gle still or a small hand­ful of pics to pro­duce a rea­son­ably real­is­tic video clip.

    Unlike a true deep­fake video, the results from a sin­gle or small num­ber of images end up fudg­ing fine details. For exam­ple, a fake of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe in the Sam­sung lab’s demo video missed the icon’s famous mole. It also means the syn­the­sized videos tend to retain some sem­blance of who­ev­er played the role of the dig­i­tal pup­pet, accord­ing to Siwei Lyu, a com­put­er sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty at Albany in New York who spe­cial­izes in media foren­sics and machine learn­ing. That’s why each of the mov­ing Mona Lisa faces looks like a slight­ly dif­fer­ent per­son.

    Gen­er­al­ly, a deep­fake sys­tem aims at elim­i­nat­ing those visu­al hic­cups. That requires mean­ing­ful amounts of train­ing data for both the input video and the tar­get per­son.

    The few-shot or one-shot aspect of this approach is use­ful, Lyu said, because it means a large net­work can be trained on a large num­ber of videos, which is the part that takes a long time. This kind of sys­tem can then quick­ly adapt to a new tar­get per­son using only a few images with­out exten­sive retrain­ing, he said. “This saves time in con­cept and makes the mod­el gen­er­al­iz­able.”

    The rapid advance­ment of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence means that any time a researcher shares a break­through in deep­fake cre­ation, bad actors can begin scrap­ing togeth­er their own jury-rigged tools to mim­ic it. Sam­sung’s tech­niques are like­ly to find their way into more peo­ple’s hands before long.

    ...

    ———

    “Sam­sung deep­fake AI could fab­ri­cate a video of you from a sin­gle pro­file pic” by Joan E. Sols­man; CNet; 05/24/2019

    “Soft­ware for cre­at­ing deep­fakes — fab­ri­cat­ed clips that make peo­ple appear to do or say things they nev­er did — usu­al­ly requires big data sets of images in order to cre­ate a real­is­tic forgery. Now Sam­sung has devel­oped a new arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tem that can gen­er­ate a fake clip by feed­ing it as lit­tle as one pho­to.

    Just one pho­to. That’s the new thresh­old for a deep­fake, albeit a some­what crude deep­fake. But when a crude­ly doc­tored video of House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi can go viral, it’s hard to see why crude­ly done deep­fakes aren’t going to have sim­i­lar pro­pa­gan­da val­ue:

    ...
    Here’s the down­side: These kinds of tech­niques and their rapid devel­op­ment also cre­ate risks of mis­in­for­ma­tion, elec­tion tam­per­ing and fraud, accord­ing to Hany Farid, a Dart­mouth researcher who spe­cial­izes in media foren­sics to root out deep­fakes.

    When even a crude­ly doc­tored video of US Speak­er of the House Nan­cy Pelosi can go viral on social media, deep­fakes raise wor­ries that their sophis­ti­ca­tion would make mass decep­tion eas­i­er, since deep­fakes are hard­er to debunk.
    ...

    And keep in mind that for some­one like Nan­cy Pelosi, there’s no need for a deep­fake to be based on a sin­gle pho­to. There’s plen­ty of footage of her avail­able for any­one who wants to cre­ate a more real­is­tic deep­fake of her. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle makes clear, when those real­is­tic deep­fakes are cre­at­ed we should have absolute­ly no expec­ta­tion that the right-wing media won’t ful­ly jump on board pro­mot­ing them as real. Because it turns out that bla­tant­ly doc­tored video of Nan­cy Pelosi did­n’t sim­ply go viral on social media. It was also aggres­sive­ly pushed by Pres­i­dent Trump and Fox News. Beyond that, the tim­ing of the doc­tored video is rather sus­pi­cious: On Thurs­day, Trump held a press con­fer­ence where he claimed that Pelosi was “dete­ri­o­rat­ing” and has “lost it”. It was right around this time that the doc­tored video start­ed get­ting dis­sem­i­nat­ed on social media. Then, by Thurs­day evening — which is AFTER this video was already iden­ti­fied as being mod­i­fied — Trump prox­ies Rudy Giu­liani and Cory Lewandows­ki showed up on Fox News to fur­ther push the meme that Pelosi is men­tal­ly los­ing it. Trump also retweet­ed a Fox Busi­ness com­pi­la­tion of Pelosi trip­ping over her words dur­ing a press con­fer­ence. Giu­liani actu­al­ly tweet­ed out the fake video. So we appear to be look­ing at a coor­di­nat­ed GOP effort to know­ing­ly use a fake video to score polit­i­cal points:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    News

    Team Trump Tries To Weaponize Decep­tive­ly Edit­ed Videos Of Nan­cy Pelosi

    By Kate Riga
    May 24, 2019 9:26 am

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giu­liani, tweet­ed out videos Thurs­day in an attempt to make House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi (D‑CA) seem slow and addled.

    The strat­e­gy to depict Pelosi as senile began with Trump’s press con­fer­ence Thurs­day, a day after the scut­tled infra­struc­ture meet­ing, when he said that she’s “dete­ri­o­rat­ing” and has “lost it.”

    Around the same time, a doc­tored video of Pelosi with the audio slowed to make it seem like she was drunk­en­ly slur­ring her words start­ed dis­sem­i­nat­ing through dif­fer­ent social media plat­forms. That video has racked up mil­lions of views.

    Trump’s allies coa­lesced behind the strat­e­gy Thurs­day evening, tak­ing to Fox to fur­ther paint Pelosi as decrepit and men­tal­ly lack­ing.

    Trump tweet­ed out a com­pi­la­tion from Fox Busi­ness that night that spliced togeth­er clips of Pelosi stum­bling over her words at a news con­fer­ence. The hosts of the seg­ment debat­ed Pelosi’s men­tal acu­ity.

    More here. This is the pas­sage Trump just tweet­ed. Same show, push­ing the line that Pelosi is senile. Pret­ty obvi­ous­ly feed­ing off these faked videos the Post uncov­ered today. pic.twitter.com/EziVX7vj5y— Josh Mar­shall (@joshtpm) May 24, 2019

    Giu­liani opt­ed for the doc­tored video, tweet­ing, “What’s wrong with Nan­cy Pelosi? Her speech pat­tern is bizarre.” He delet­ed the tweet but told a Wash­ing­ton Post reporter that he’d noticed a men­tal decline.

    Text from @RudyGiuliani on why he tweeted/deleted dis­tort­ed Pelosi video: “Thought I delete right away. Some­one raised ques­tion about it and since I was­n’t sure I delet­ed it. But I have been notic­ing a grad­ual change in her speech pat­tern and ges­tures for some­time”— Drew Har­well (@drewharwell) May 24, 2019

    He addressed the tweet again Fri­day morn­ing (we think?) with a fair­ly inde­ci­pher­able tweet.

    ivess­s­apol­o­gy for a video which is alleged­ly is a car­i­ca­ture of an oth­er­wise halt­ing speech pat­tern, she should first stop, and apol­o­gize for, say­ing the Pres­i­dent needs an “inter­ven­tion.” Are pic.twitter.com/ZpEO7iRzV8— Rudy Giu­liani (@RudyGiuliani) May 24, 2019

    For­mer Trump cam­paign man­ag­er Corey Lewandows­ki also referred to Pelosi “slur­ring” her words on Fox Busi­ness Net­work Thurs­day night:

    Sur­prise sur­prise @CLewandowski_ already on the Lou Dobbs show push­ing those doc­tored Pelosi videos first debunked today by WaPo https://t.co/0RelwLI27U pic.twitter.com/PmMCmQZGZA— Josh Mar­shall (@joshtpm) May 23, 2019

    ...

    ———–

    “Team Trump Tries To Weaponize Decep­tive­ly Edit­ed Videos Of Nan­cy Pelosi” by Kate Riga; Talk­ing Points Memo; 05/24/2019

    Around the same time, a doc­tored video of Pelosi with the audio slowed to make it seem like she was drunk­en­ly slur­ring her words start­ed dis­sem­i­nat­ing through dif­fer­ent social media plat­forms. That video has racked up mil­lions of views.”

    Yep, around the same time Trump gives a press con­fer­ence where he asserts that Pelosi is “dete­ri­o­rat­ing” and has “lost it”, we find this fake video sud­den­ly get­ting pushed on social media and then Trump prox­ies show up on Fox New and Fox Busi­ness Thurs­day evening to con­tin­ue push­ing the meme. Giu­liani even pushed the doc­tored video on twit­ter.

    And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, this meme WAS THE MAIN TOPIC on Lau­ra Ingra­ham’s prime time Fox News evening pro­gram and Lou Dobbs’ Fox Busi­ness show. This was­n’t just a joke Fox was briefly cov­er­ing. It was a cen­tral prime-time top­ic Fox was tak­ing seri­ous­ly:

    The Week

    Some­one’s doc­tor­ing video of Nan­cy Pelosi, and Trump and his allies seem very into it

    Peter Weber
    05/24/2019 3:06 a.m.

    Pres­i­dent Trump and House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi (D‑Calif.) are in a pub­lic spat, fol­low­ing Wednes­day’s very short infra­struc­ture meet­ing that Pelosi called a Trump “tem­per tantrum” on Thurs­day and Trump insist­ed was­n’t, ask­ing five total­ly objec­tive aides to vouch for him. Trump called Pelosi a “mess” and “crazy,” say­ing she’s “not the same per­son” while he’s an “extreme­ly sta­ble genius.” Pelosi respond­ed:

    When the “extreme­ly sta­ble genius” starts act­ing more pres­i­den­tial, I’ll be hap­py to work with him on infra­struc­ture, trade and oth­er issues. https://t.co/tfWVkj9CLT— Nan­cy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 23, 2019

    But Trump’s sug­ges­tion that Pelosi, 79 — six years old­er than him­self — is get­ting too old for her job seems part of a larg­er cam­paign. It was a main theme Thurs­day night on Lau­ra Ingra­ham’s Fox News pro­gram and Lou Dobbs’ show on Fox Busi­ness — Trump tweet­ed a Dobbs clip fea­tur­ing selec­tive­ly edit­ed video of Pelosi, plus GOP strate­gist Ed Rollins say­ing Pelosi appears addled by age. Trump loy­al­ist Corey Lewandows­ki was also on Dobbs, allud­ing to a dif­fer­ent, doc­tored video of Pelosi spread­ing around the inter­net. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giu­liani tweet­ed, then delet­ed, that video Thurs­day night, with the com­ment: “What is wrong with Nan­cy Pelosi? Her speech pat­tern is bizarre.”

    It isn’t clear who orig­i­nal­ly manip­u­lat­ed the Pelosi video, now wide­ly viewed and shared on social media, but pp+ and out­side researchers deter­mined the video was slowed to about 75 per­cent of its orig­i­nal speed, then edit­ed so Pelosi’s voice is rough­ly the right pitch.

    “The altered video’s dis­sem­i­na­tion high­lights the sub­tle way that viral mis­in­for­ma­tion could shape pub­lic per­cep­tions in the run-up to the 2020 elec­tion,” the Post warns. “Even sim­ple, crude manip­u­la­tions can be used to under­mine an oppo­nent or score polit­i­cal points.”

    ...

    ———–

    “Some­one’s doc­tor­ing video of Nan­cy Pelosi, and Trump and his allies seem very into it” by Peter Weber; The Week; 05/24/2019

    “But Trump’s sug­ges­tion that Pelosi, 79 — six years old­er than him­self — is get­ting too old for her job seems part of a larg­er cam­paign. It was a main theme Thurs­day night on Lau­ra Ingra­ham’s Fox News pro­gram and Lou Dobbs’ show on Fox Busi­ness — Trump tweet­ed a Dobbs clip fea­tur­ing selec­tive­ly edit­ed video of Pelosi, plus GOP strate­gist Ed Rollins say­ing Pelosi appears addled by age. Trump loy­al­ist Corey Lewandows­ki was also on Dobbs, allud­ing to a dif­fer­ent, doc­tored video of Pelosi spread­ing around the inter­net. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giu­liani tweet­ed, then delet­ed, that video Thurs­day night, with the com­ment: “What is wrong with Nan­cy Pelosi? Her speech pat­tern is bizarre.””

    Fox News’s main theme was a big bla­tant lie. On one lev­el, that’s just a typ­i­cal evening of Fox pro­gram­ming. But the fact that there was an aggres­sive pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign using an eas­i­ly fal­si­fi­able video and this cam­paign got even more aggres­sive even after the media debunked the video demon­strates exact­ly the kind of men­tal­i­ty that will find the use of deep­fakes irre­sistible. Also keep in mind that, as we’ve seen in elec­tions in Brazil and India, encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing apps like What­sApp are increas­ing­ly the medi­um of choice for dis­sem­i­nat­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion and it’s extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to iden­ti­fy and respond to dis­in­for­ma­tion spread over these encrypt­ed plat­forms. Will 2020 be the first deep­fake elec­tion for the Unit­ed States? We’ll find out soon, but the fact that Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is already mar­i­nat­ing deep­fake ver­sions of real­i­ty sug­gests that the only thing pre­vent­ing deep­fakes from being used in pol­i­tics is access to the tech­nol­o­gy. Tech­nol­o­gy that’s advanc­ing so fast even the Mona Lisa can be deep­faked.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 24, 2019, 12:27 pm

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