Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
Whisper: The ‘anonymous’ messaging app that reportedly tracks your location and shares data with the Pentagon
I wonder whether we are going to start seeing services and products whose covert purpose is to monitor communications and locations for government agencies, with the agency acting assisting in development and funding in return for use of the service in surveillance. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:
It turns out Whisper — the social networking app that lets users post messages to the service anonymously — may have been tracking its users’ locations, sometimes even after the users opted out of the service’s geolocation features.
That information has occasionally been shared with the U.S. government, including agencies such as the Pentagon, using a lower legal standard than is commonly used by other tech companies, according to an in-depth reportby The Guardian.
Reporters from The Guardian recently visited Whisper’s headquarters in Los Angeles. What they discovered over the course of three days showed that Whisper not only kept tabs on accounts it deemed interesting — “military personnel,” a “sex-obsessed lobbyist,” and political staffers, to name a few — but that it retained that information for far longer than its Web site suggested.
I’ve reached out to Whisper for comment; I’ll update this post if and when I hear back. Whisper told The Guardian it “occasionally” uses user IP addresses but does not store usernames, phone numbers or personally identifiable information.
When a user opted out of the geolocation tracking feature, which allows users to see Whisper posts that are “nearby,” Whisper was still able to collect rough location data on a case-by-case basis from certain users’ phones, according to The Guardian. When Whisper found out that The Guardian was preparing its story for publication, the company reportedly rewrote its terms of service to allow the collection of general geolocation data even when users have turned off the feature.
One question moving forward is whether revising its terms of service is enough to protect Whisper from an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission, which can pursue companies that engage in “unfair or deceptive” acts and practices. . .
I can’t get over how quickly the Navy destroyed evidence. I suppose practice improves efficiency, but the overt support for lawbreaking seems ominous. Jordan Smith provides new details about the scandal in The Intercept:
A former Navy intelligence officer is slated to go on trial in federal court next week on charges he conspired with a California auto mechanic to manufacture untraceable silencers for automatic rifles, ship them cross-country, and to defraud the feds of nearly $1.7 million in the process.
The strange and soap operatic tale of Pentagon-centered intrigue has been unfolding since 2011, when the two conspirators facing criminal charges — Lee Hall, then a civilian Naval intelligence officer, and Mark Landersman, a mechanic facing a separate trial who is also the brother of Hall’s former boss — entered into a nearly $1.7 million deal to have 349 silencers manufactured, apparently for a clandestine military operation, according toThe Washington Post and court documents. Federal prosecutors say the silencers only cost around $10,000 to make.
Even the prosecutors alleging fraud acknowledge the silencers were connected to a genuine, high-level secret operation, known in federal parlance as a “special access program.” But exactly what that operation might have been is entirely unclear. One story suggests the silencers were being procured for use by Navy SEAL Team 6, which disavowed any knowledge of them; another says they were being produced to outfit a stockpile of AK-47-style rifles that were seized overseas and then stored in the U.S. for later, untraceable, use abroad.
That the illegal baffling devices were manufactured and shipped is clear, but as the tale spins forward in federal court, the why and what for remain, at least publicly, unknown.
As the Post notes in its reporting this week, many documents related to the investigation have been filed under seal with the federal court in Arlington, Va., making it difficult, at best, to determine whether they were purchased for a legitimate, secret military mission, or whether they were procured as part of a “rogue operation,” being run out of the Navy’s Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Interrogation — a small office meant to provide support for Navy and Marine intelligence operations and staffed by civilians, most of them military retirees. As a former senior Navy official told the Post, directorate officials behaved as “wanna-be spook-cops” who acted like “they were building their own mini law enforcement and intelligence agency.”
Here is what is clear, according to public court records: . . .
This incident is straight out of Daniel Goleman’s (excellent) book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. And you can see immediately how it works: if thinking about something causes you pain, you very quickly become skilled in not thinking about it, but not seeing it sometimes requires a strenuous effort, as discussed in the book.
In the meantime, Jennifer Gibson has a nice retort in the Washington Post to on Prof. Fair, who pretty clearly was avoiding seeing some things—and I’m willing to believe her strange inability to see what is actually happening is due to an effort to minimize psychic pain rather than to maximize consulting fees and contacts. Ms. Gibson writes:
Last week, in a piece titled “Ethical and Methodological Issues in Assessing Drones’ Civilian Impacts in Pakistan,” Georgetown Prof. Christine Fair took aim at human rights organizations for what she called their “advocacy-driven” investigations into the covert U.S. drone program in Pakistan.
The crux of the author’s argument seemed to be that these reports are methodologically flawed and therefore unreliable.
The author is right on one front. Reprieve is an advocacy organization. We advocate for the U.S. to follow the rule of law and respect human rights. We have never hidden this. But on several other key points, Fair’s piece is inaccurate and misleading.
For example, Fair claims that the constant “buzzing” of drones overhead could not possibly create widespread fear, anxiety and terror among local communities. Several studies and major news outlets must be wrong, she argues, because the drones do not need to fly this low. Just look at the technical specifications the U.S. Air Force provides for the Predator and Reaper drones.
The correct research question in this situation, though, is not whether the drones need to fly that low, but whether they do. And if the testimonies of those living in North Waziristan are not sufficient because (as Fair claims) they may be “influenced,” then what about the words of a New York Times reporter? David Rohde, a journalist who was held captive for several months in the tribal areas, said upon his release: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”
Zubair Rehman’s testimony is equally problematic for Fair. . .
Prof. Fair is clearly having squint a lot and tilt her head just so and stand well back, but by golly, she really cannot see anything. Nope. All’s fine. No problems.
A “breaking news” email from the LA Times:
Frontier jet reportedly made 5 flights before being taken out of service in Ebola incident
Los Angeles Times | October 15, 2014 | 12:41 PM
The Frontier Airlines jet that carried a Dallas healthcare worker diagnosed with Ebola made five additional flights after her trip before it was taken out of service, a flight-monitoring website reported today.
Denver-based Frontier said in a statement that it grounded the plane Tuesday immediately after the carrier was notified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the Ebola patient.
The Airbus A320 was put away for the night Monday after it carried the woman and 132 other passengers from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth on Flight 1143. But Tuesday morning the plane was flown back to Cleveland and then to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., back to Cleveland and then to Atlanta and finally back again to Cleveland, according to Daniel Baker, the chief executive of the flight monitoring site Flightaware.com.
This is more or less the beginning of any number of movies. 12 Monkeys, anyone?
BTW, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Dallas hospital was incompetent—this emergency was way over its head, and it’s interesting to read of how much was not done properly in order to save money. The manager of that hospital sees it as a business with his job to maximize profit. That it involves healthcare is secondary. And note the degree to which the problems stem from management and administration, and not from the healthcare workers, who were doing the best they can with the shoddy equipment, inadequate supplies, and inadequate staffing—and, as we see, inadequate training. Training is always a big, fat target for cost-cutters because it cuts a real cost and the damage resulting is usually unobserved. In the case of the Dallas hospital, all those dollars saved by inadequate training and staffing and the incompetent management of the crisis suddenly look penny-wise, pound-foolish.
For more info:
In the meantime, of course, we continue to use enormous quantities of antibiotics fed to livestock in a determined effort to breed microbes and infectious diseases that are resistant to all the antibiotics at our disposal. Because we roll that way. The third article includes this:
Medically unsound practices may be part of the superbug problem. In India, antibiotics have been available over the counter for decades. This practice has led to the development and spread of ESBL-producing organisms and, more recently, the NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1) gene, which confers resistance to the strongest antibiotics available. The NDM-1 strain was first reported in 2010 among patients in India and Pakistan and those in theU.S. and Britain who had received medical care in those countries. Since that time, the NDM-1 gene has spread around the globe. Responding to concerns of Indian physicians and the international community, this year the Indian government mandated that a prescription would be required for all antibiotics, but this rule is not strictly enforced.
While India may indeed be at fault for overuse of antibiotics, the US is certainly in no position to point fingers. I would be the antibiotic usage in the US agricultural industry far exceeds that used for medical purposes in India. And note that in the US all the animals get the antibiotic, whether sick or not: we’re in a hurry to make sure our animals harbor only those microbes most strongly resistant to antibiotics. Why? To make a little bit more money: faster meat production, for example.
That tells you pretty much all you need to know about America’s current system of values.
The conclusion of an excellent article at Pacific Standard by Zen Liu:
. . . With cosmeceutical prices quickly skyrocketing—department store brands easily run between $450 to $700 for a few ounces—the FDA and FTC finally have taken notice of the potential for manufacturers to defraud the public. Since 2010, the FDA and FTC have issued 10 warning letters to cosmetics companies for making drug-like statements in their anti-aging creams’ marketing materials, including L’Oreal, Avon, Nivea, and L’Occitane.
L’Oreal is the world’s largest cosmetics group, amassing nearly $30 billion annually in sales. In a half-year financial report filed with the SEC in June 2014, L’Oreal reported spending around $450 million on research and development, but over $4 billion on advertising and promotions. Apparently, spending nearly $1 billion annually on research can generate enough evidence to assure consumers their cosmeceuticals work, but not quite enough to meet the FDA’s standards of proof.
The advertisements in question described their products as having the ability to, for example, change gene expression in the skin to induce collagen production and block the process of aging, or even promote weight loss. Under threat of legal action, manufacturers were ordered to produce scientific evidence to substantiate their claims and have products evaluated through the FDA’s New Drug Approval process, or cease making such statements altogether.
All of the firms chose the latter.
I bet any money I know why. Because revealing those secrets would have endangered national security. (It’s as valid here as when the DoJ and Obama Administration and CIA and NSA use it.)
I am pleased to see a Federal regulatory agency actually regulating the industry instead of rolling over for it in return for a plush sinecure upon retirement from the government.
President Obama has failed to take direct and vigorous action to reform the regulatory agencies and restore their sense of mission. Read this story to see what the SEC is like after reforms: it’s as if the reforms were not made. Nothing has changed. The SEC still defers to banks and takes orders from banks.