Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force in Canada, has claimed that they want to introduce body cameras, but they cannot find cameras that will pass their tests because they choose only cameras that don’t meet the criteria. For example, they require a camera with a 12-hour battery life, but for their tests they picked only cameras that could not meet that criterion. Could be they’re stalling…
Perverse incentives abound when a company makes decision using profit as a metric. Kevin Drum blogs at Mother Jones:
Matt Richtel has an intriguing article today in the New York Times about electric cars. The question is: why aren’t they selling better? Is it because they have weak performance? Because they can only go a hundred miles on a charge? Because they’re expensive?
Those are all issues.1 But it turns out that people who want to buy an electric car anyway have a hard time getting dealerships to sell them one:
Kyle Gray, a BMW salesman, said he was personally enthusiastic about the technology, but…the sales process takes more time because the technology is new, cutting into commissions…. Marc Detsch, Nissan’s business development manager for electric vehicles said some salespeople just can’t rationalize the time it takes to sell the cars. A salesperson “can sell two gas burners in less than it takes to sell a Leaf,” he said. “It’s a lot of work for a little pay.”
He also pointed to the potential loss of service revenue. “There’s nothing much to go wrong,” Mr. Deutsch said of electric cars. “There’s no transmission to go bad.”….Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said there wasn’t sufficient data to prove that electric cars would require less maintenance. But he acknowledged that service was crucial to dealer profits and that dealers didn’t want to push consumers into electric cars that might make them less inclined to return for service.
I suppose this makes sense. And to all this, you can add the fact that none of these cars can fly. There are so many hurdles to overcome before we make it into the Jetson’s future we were all promised.
1We are, of course, talking about the non-Tesla market here.
In Motherboard Jordan Pearson notes the restrictions corporations regularly attempt to enforce on their customers:
It happened suddenly, like most of these stories do. My alarm went off. I kicked my leg out as I jolted awake, making solid contact with my new laptop, which was innocently lying at the foot of my hotel bed for some reason. It landed on a chair leg; the crash was loud. The aluminum next to the Apple logo was visibly, obviously dented. I flipped it open and was greeted with a large blob of dead pixels radiating outward from the dent.
My options were few. $600 for an LCD replacement at the Apple store. $500 to get an independent repairman to do it. On a whim, I searched eBay and was shocked to see that I could get a new LCD for $50, if I was willing to find out whatever the inside of a MacBook Pro looked like. I pressed buy.
And then I saw the screw.
If you’ve tried to open any iDevice—iPad, iPhone, iMac, any of them—within the last four years, you’ve come face-to-face with Apple’s very small, five-pointed Do Not Enter sign. It’s an overt declaration that your phone, or your computer, or your tablet is not really yours to tamper with, a public statement that you are not qualified to fix your own things.
If you’re reading this on your iPhone or have one nearby, look at either side of the charging port and you’ll seem them: two tiny, star-shaped screw heads that, outside of an obscure wheelchair manufacturer, do not otherwise exist in the wild.
There is a solution to this “pentalobe” screw, however. A screwdriver engineered by iFixit, a California startup that has been simultaneously antagonizing Apple and making sure that, as electronics get more and more complicated, the layperson will still be able to learn how to fix them. (Other companies have since begun offering pentalobe screwdrivers.)
I spent a few days with iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens and professional repair experts at the Electronics Reuse Conference in New Orleans earlier this month to learn more about how your right to open, tinker with, and repair devices that you own is under attack from the very companies that make them. . .
Later in the article:
. . . The iPhone 4 shipped with standard, Phillips head screws. Sometime in late 2010, however, the company began ordering its Apple Store Geniuses to replace standard screws with pentalobe ones on any iPhone 4 devices that were brought in for repair.Reuters reported on January 20, 2011 that employees were instructed to not tell customers that they had made the switch. The switch should have, in theory, made it impossible for anyone except for Apple to open the device. . .
Giving law enforcement agencies (federal, state, county, or municipal) unusual powers has a downside, well documented in Radley Balko’s column The Watch in the Washington Post. Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a report at how California law enforcement has misused their law enforcement network:
Confirmed cases of misuse of California’s sprawling unified law enforcement information network have doubled over the last five years, according to records obtained by EFF under the California Public Records Act.
That adds up to a total 389 cases in which an investigation concluded that a user—often a peace officer—broke the rules for accessing the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), such as searching criminal records to vet potential dates or spy on former spouses. More than 20 incidents since 2010 have resulted in criminal charges.
Unfortunately, those figures are only what was self-reported by government agencies to the California Attorney General. The actual number of misuse cases of CLETS are likely substantially higher since the California Attorney General’s Department of Justice (CADOJ) has let many agencies slide on their annual misuse disclosures. Among the delinquent are two of California’s largest law enforcement agencies: the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
What’s worse is the government body charged with overseeing disciplinary matters—the CLETS Advisory Committee (CAC)—seems to have taken no action to address the problem or ensure accountability from individual agencies.
Law enforcement abuse of confidential databases have been a growing concern for privacy and civil liberties groups like EFF. It occurs at all levels of government. In 2013, the NSA acknowledged that agents used intelligence systems to snoop on romantic interests (a practice dubbed “LOVEINT”). Last month, a Border Patrol supervisor was arrested and charged for allegedly manipulating a Homeland Security database to retaliate against a man who had made “child-rape” allegations against the supervisor’s brother.
Of the hundreds of cases of verified misuse of CLETS each year, only a handful of stories have reached the public, often years after the fact. Here are a few of the worst ways that police have abused the system in recent years:
- In 2010, a Los Angeles Police officer used LAPD’s communications system, which is connected to CLETS, to pull information on witnesses who testified against his girlfriend’s brother in a murder case. Chief Charlie Beck told the press the department would “vigorously prosecute” the officer. Two years later, however, the Los Angeles County District Attorney dropped the case. By then, the officer had already resigned. (Los Angeles County District Attorney)
- In the fall of 2010, an officer, who had been sending his estranged wife abusive text messages, used CLETS to dig up information on her new boyfriends. His wife complained to the police. The officer ultimately pled no contest to a misdemeanor harassment charge, but the charges for violating CLETS were dropped. He was also fired. (California Public Employee Relations Journal)
- Two Fairfield Police officers were investigated for using CLETS to screen women from dating sites such as Tinder, eHarmony, and Match.com. (Daily Republic)
- Court records show that in 2009, a Westminster Police Officer was fired after accessing CLETS 96 times to gather information on 15 people for non-law enforcement purposes, such as meeting women and spying on his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges and unlawful disclosure of DMV records. (Orange County Register)
- In 2013, the Madera County Sheriff’s Department of Corrections staff broke the rules by using a CLETS terminal at the county jail as a regular workstation. Consequently, officials failed to receive crucial communications, leading to the accidental release of a detainee. Days later, the released man was involved in a car chase that resulted in a crash that killed an innocent civilian. (Madera County Grand Jury)
EFF began investigating CLETS after reviewing official “misuse statistics” presented in public hearings that made little sense and did not seem to reflect misuse at all. Digging deeper, we learned the CLETS Advisory Committee has aggressively moved to expand the system’s capabilities, while more often than not turning a blind eye to the also-growing misuse.
What Is CLETS?
Think of CLETS as California’s law enforcement “cloud.”
CLETS links together more than 5,200 unique “points of presence,” such as dedicated office computers and mobile terminals in patrol cars. It’s a system so large that CADOJ told EFF it doesn’t even keep a master list of which agencies have signed agreements to access the system. In addition, many CLETS features are accessible through a web app called “SmartJustice.” The system also allows CLETS users to send millions of messages to each other every day, such as all-points-bulletins and Amber alerts.
CLETS users are granted access to whole universes of databases that don’t just contain information on Californians, but records from other states and the federal government.
If you’ve got a California-issued ID, registered a car in California, received a parking citation, have any kind of criminal history or protective order, or any kind of record in 11 other databases, then you likely have files that can be accessed from CLETS.
But that’s not all: . . .
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
Until March 30, 2014, most Americans and even long-term veterans on Wall Street had no idea how the electrical plumbing responsible for transacting buy and sell orders at stock exchanges and other trading platforms actually worked. That all changed on March 30 when author Michael Lewis went on 60 Minutes and told its 12 million viewers that “The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism is rigged.”
Lewis was promoting his new book, Flash Boys, which detailed in language the public could easily understand, (devoid of the intentionally cryptic acronyms used across Wall Street) how the stock exchanges, mega Wall Street banks and high frequency traders were conspiring through technology to front run orders from unknowing investors.
In the 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft, Lewis drilled down to how the legalized theft had escaped the notice of so many market watchers: “If it’s so complicated you can’t understand it, then you can’t question it,” said Lewis.
At first, the Securities and Exchange Commission denied that the markets were “rigged” and simply tried to ride out the public uproar. Then it decided to create an Equity Market Structure Advisory Committee, effectively bringing together in one room the Wall Street people involved in the mad-scientist technology and market rigging devices to hash it out in a public venue.
The Committee most recently held a meeting on October 27, where slurs, barbs and accusations were thrown at opposing sides by meticulously tailored men using their most polite voices.
Jamil Nazarali, head of Citadel Execution Services, landed the best insult of the day with this gem directed at the stock exchanges:
“This industry is the only one that I am aware of where a for-profit public company regulates its customers and competitors. And I understand that you guys think that that’s important but what is it that you guys do that someone else couldn’t do. All those regulatory functions that you described, why couldn’t some other entity do that? Why does it have to be within your four walls?”
Citadel is a hedge fund and dark pool operator. (Dark pools are trading venues which lack full SEC oversight and trade in the dark without public transparency.)
Nazarali heads up Citadel’s trading operations, also known as “execution” services. Nazarali was throwing a jab at the men from the stock exchanges that had given testimony during the full day conference on how they served a public interest function by regulating their members. Dark pools compete with exchanges for customers and trading volume, are typically also broker dealers and members of the exchanges, and resent being regulated by a competitor.
Citadel is an unlikely candidate to be slinging mud, as we explained in an in-depth article on August 14, 2014.
Thomas Wittman, Executive Vice President of the Nasdaq stock market and Global Head of Equities, zinged both the SEC and dark pools, which are also known as “unlit” markets. Wittman told the Committee:
“Given the intense price competition, we question the time and resources spent by the Commission [SEC] analyzing whether exchanges have fully justified proposals reducing their fees. Nearly 40 percent of the executions occur on venues that lack not only pre-trade price discovery but operational and fee transparency. Yet Nasdaq has encountered difficulty in gaining Commission approval for a fee reduction for members that transact the most volume across three of its options exchanges. I ask, again, in what other industry would a company be prohibited from lowering prices for the most value and value contributing investors.”
As for the value of exchanges versus dark pools, Wittman said: “If you take a look at high volatility times like August 24, you saw that the amount of off-exchange trading almost was cut in half as flow moved to the lit venues which underscores the importance of the lit venues in capital formation.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by 1,089 points in the opening minutes of trading on August 24. (See related article below.) Finger-pointing and hostility have grown among competing factions since that day.
Andrew Silverman, a Managing Director at the giant retail broker and investment bank, Morgan Stanley, which also operates dark pools, effectively told the Committee panel: “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity.” For example, Silverman testified: . . .
Continue reading. Silverman’s statement is interesting.
The SEC is a failure as a regulatory agency, fully captured by the business interests it is supposed to regulate (with the cooperation of President Obama, who appointed a Wall Street lawyer to head the commission).
From this Motherboard story by Clinton Nguyen:
The NY Times Editorial Board writes:
It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.
Speaking less than three days after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris killed 129 and injured hundreds more, Mr. Brennan complained about “a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists.”
What he calls “hand-wringing” was the sustained national outrage following the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, that the agency was using provisions of the Patriot Act to secretly collect information on millions of Americans’ phone records. In June, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (but not the collection of other data, like emails and the content of Americans’ international phone calls) and requires the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make its most significant rulings available to the public.
These reforms are only a modest improvement on the Patriot Act, but the intelligence community saw them as a grave impediment to antiterror efforts. In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”
It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it’s not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking. . .