Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Google reflects us to ourselves, in a way: an imperfect mirror but the best we’ve had. In the Guardian Carole Cadwalladr shows us our reflection:
Here’s what you don’t want to do late on a Sunday night. You do not want to type seven letters into Google. That’s all I did. I typed: “a-r-e”. And then “j-e-w-s”. Since 2008, Google has attempted to predict what question you might be asking and offers you a choice. And this is what it did. It offered me a choice of potential questions it thought I might want to ask: “are jews a race?”, “are jews white?”, “are jews christians?”, and finally, “are jews evil?”
Are Jews evil? It’s not a question I’ve ever thought of asking. I hadn’t gone looking for it. But there it was. I press enter. A page of results appears. This was Google’s question. And this was Google’s answer: Jews are evil. Because there, on my screen, was the proof: an entire page of results, nine out of 10 of which “confirm” this. The top result, from a site called Listovative, has the headline: “Top 10 Major Reasons Why People Hate Jews.” I click on it: “Jews today have taken over marketing, militia, medicinal, technological, media, industrial, cinema challenges etc and continue to face the worlds [sic] envy through unexplained success stories given their inglorious past and vermin like repression all over Europe.”
Google is search. It’s the verb, to Google. It’s what we all do, all the time, whenever we want to know anything. We Google it. The site handles at least 63,000 searches a second, 5.5bn a day. Its mission as a company, the one-line overview that has informed the company since its foundation and is still the banner headline on its corporate website today, is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It strives to give you the best, most relevant results. And in this instance the third-best, most relevant result to the search query “are Jews… ” is a link to an article from stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi website. The fifth is a YouTube video: “Why the Jews are Evil. Why we are against them.”
The sixth is from Yahoo Answers: “Why are Jews so evil?” The seventh result is: “Jews are demonic souls from a different world.” And the 10th is from jesus-is-saviour.com: “Judaism is Satanic!”
There’s one result in the 10 that offers a different point of view. It’s a link to a rather dense, scholarly book review from thetabletmag.com, a Jewish magazine, with the unfortunately misleading headline: “Why Literally Everybody In the World Hates Jews.”
I feel like I’ve fallen down a wormhole, entered some parallel universe where black is white, and good is bad. Though later, I think that perhaps what I’ve actually done is scraped the topsoil off the surface of 2016 and found one of the underground springs that has been quietly nurturing it. It’s been there all the time, of course. Just a few keystrokes away… on our laptops, our tablets, our phones. This isn’t a secret Nazi cell lurking in the shadows. It’s hiding in plain sight. . .
Can this species be saved?
The internet is an extraordinarily rich environment for memes, so they’re evolving rapidly—and some of the resulting memes are not benign.
Do read the whole thing. There’s a lot more to the article than the taste above.
I highly recommend watching the movie The Lives of Others as soon as possible. It reveals the direction we’re headed as our police departments take on the job of spying on ordinary citizens going about their daily lives. The movie won an Oscar, and you can rent it from Amazon.
Steven Hale writes in the Washington Post:
When the Boston Globe revealed late last month that the Boston police department was planning to purchase software that would aid it in scanning social media platforms, civil liberties groups sounded the alarm. The department’s plan caught the city council off guard and now, the Globe reports, police department officials are scheduled to appear before the council Monday for “a hearing on $14.2 million in federal Homeland Security grants awarded to the city’s Office of Emergency Management, a portion of which will be used by the police department to fund the new software.”
The Globe describes what the software would allow police to do:
The software would be able to search blogs, websites, chat rooms, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. It would provide law enforcement officials with an address of where the content was posted and allow police to create a “geo-fence” that would send alerts when new posts are made within an area that meets specified search criteria.
Law enforcement investigators using the technology — which is in use at other departments around the country — will be able to mask themselves by creating virtual identities, documents show. The department plans to spend up to $1.4 million on the software and expects to select a vendor no later than Dec. 5.
A department spokesman tells the Globe that the software would be used “in accordance to strict policies and procedures and within the parameters of state and federal laws,” adding that “the information looked at is only what is already publicly available.” If the plan doesn’t arouse skepticism in you, though, consider how Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans is defending the plan, pointing to the classic Scary Things so often used to justify an expansion in police power.
“We’re not going after ordinary people,” Evans said on Boston Public Radio, per the Globe. “It’s a necessary tool of law enforcement and helps in keeping our neighborhoods safe from violence, as well as terrorism, human trafficking, and young kids who might be the victim of a pedophile.”
Leaving aside the standard attempt to assuage the fears of “ordinary people” — the innocent have nothing to hide, right? — remember that, while they are no doubt legitimate concerns for police, the threats of terrorism, trafficking and neighborhood sex offenders are regularly exaggerated by law enforcement ahead of their encroachment on local communities or after the fact. See the boogeyman threat of pedophiles on Halloween or the Super Bowl sex trafficking myth.
But there is also reason for concern that police use of social media monitoring software will go beyond the targeting of threats and the protection of “ordinary people.”
In October, the American Civil Liberties Union of California obtained recordsshowing that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were providing data access to Geofeedia, a firm that boasted more than 500 law enforcement and public safety clients and touted its software as a tool that could be used for, among other things, monitoring protests. Documents obtained by the ACLU appear to show the company bragging about its use in monitoring protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore after police shootings. All three social media platforms shut off or restricted Geofeedia’s access to their data after the revelations, but the company is by no means the only player in the budding industry.
And social media monitoring is on the radar of law enforcement at all levels of government. The FBI recently acquired access to Twitter’s “firehose,” allowing the bureau to see not just the small portion of tweets the average user can view on a daily basis, but all of the roughly 500 million tweets posted on the platform every day. Suspicions that local police were using Facebook check-ins to track Dakota Access pipeline protesters sparked a viral movement of users checking in at the Standing Rock, N.D., camp in an attempt to block law enforcement surveillance, although local authorities denied they were monitoring social media.
The fundamental questions are whether law enforcement can be trusted with expanded data and surveillance capabilities and whether there is any reason to believe that the kind of bias that appears in other areas of policing won’t show up in this area as well. In September, the Associated Press reported that police officers across the country were misusing confidential databases “to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work.” And in October, City Lab reported on racial disparities in the use of “Stingray” cellphone tracking devices by police. . .
It’s clear that many police departments will hire anyone who has police experience, even when they were fired from their previous department. The vetting process for many departments seem to be casual at best.
UPDATE: By all means, read Kevin Drum’s post on this story.
His investigation included firing off a couple of rounds. Fake news is information vandalism and can have serious consequences, but those who produce fake news don’t care, since they seem to be sociopaths in terms of having any sense of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Sociopaths are not that uncommon, after all. (It’s estimated that there are 12 million in the US, and obviously some have drifted into writing fake news.)
Faiz Siddiqui and Susan Svrluga report in the Washington Post:
A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign.
The incident caused panic, with several businesses going into lockdown as police swarmed the neighborhood after receiving the call shortly before 3 p.m.
Police said 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., walked in the front door of Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee. The employee was able to flee and notify police. Police said Welch proceeded to discharge the rifle inside the restaurant; they think that all other occupants had fled when Welch began shooting.
Welch has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Police said there were no reported injuries.
Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said police arrived on the scene minutes after the first call, set up a perimeter and safely arrested Welch about 45 minutes after he entered the restaurant.
A D.C. police report made public Monday says Welch had been armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle. The report also says police seized a Colt .38 caliber handgun and a shotgun. One of those weapons was found inside the restaurant; the other in the suspect’s car. Police did not specify the locations.
The police report also describes Welch’s arrest. Police said he surrendered shortly after officers surrounded the pizza shop and emerged with his hands raised above his head.
The report says in addition to the weapons, police seized a folding knife, a T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt and denim blue jeans.
Vivek Jain, of Potomac, Md., was eating lunch inside Banana Leaf, a nearby Indian restaurant, when Comet patrons came rushing inside. He said Banana Leaf was locked down for about 90 minutes.
“A bunch of people ran in from Comet and said a man walked in with a gun,” Jain said.
About 45 minutes later, he said, he saw a man walking backward out into the street with his hands in the air.
“He laid down on Connecticut Avenue and he was immediately picked up by the police and taken away,” he said. . .
Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Later in the article:
. . . James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, said in a statement: “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”
The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true. But the fake stories and threats persisted, some even aimed at children of Comet Ping Pong employees and patrons. The restaurant’s owner was forced to contact the FBI, local police, Facebook and other social-media platforms in an effort to remove the articles.
Last month, citing its policy against posting the personal information of others, Reddit banned the “pizzagate” topic.
But it didn’t stop the harassment, and nearby businesses have received threats as well, according to police. On Sunday, Washington Post reporters involved in this article were the target of online threats shortly after it posted.
Matt Carr, the owner of the Little Red Fox market and coffee shop, said his business started getting threats last weekend. They got 30 to 40 calls before they stopped answering calls from blocked numbers, he said. “One person said he wanted to line us up in front of a firing squad,” said Carr, who spent more than an hour in lockdown with his employees Sunday.
The threats were all tied to the Comet Ping Pong accusations online, he said. “There’s some old painted-over symbol on the marquee that they claim is an international symbol of pedophilia and that there are underground tunnels. . . . There’s some video on YouTube that has almost 100,000 views and talks about me, the owner of the Little Red Fox, by name.
“This was our worst fear,” he said, “that someone would read all this and come to the block with a gun. And today it happened.” . . .
Most businesses do not understand the stakes: Of 9 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump
Sam Biddle reports for The Intercept:
Every American corporation, from the largest conglomerate to the smallest firm, should ask itself right now: Will we do business with the Trump administration to further its most extreme, draconian goals? Or will we resist?
This question is perhaps most important for the country’s tech companies, which are particularly valuable partners for a budding authoritarian. The Intercept contacted nine of the most prominent such firms, from Facebook to Booz Allen Hamilton, to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry, an idea recently resurfaced by Donald Trump’s transition team. Only Twitter said no.
Shortly after the election, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote a personal letter to President-elect Trump in which she offered her congratulations, and more importantly, the services of her company. The six different areas she identified as potential business opportunities between a Trump White House and IBM were all inoffensive and more or less mundane, but showed a disturbing willingness to sell technology to a man with open interest in the ways in which technology can be abused: Mosque surveillance, a “virtual wall” with Mexico, shutting down portions of the internet on command, and so forth. Trump’s anti-civil liberty agenda, half-baked and vague as it is, would largely be an engineering project, one that would almost certainly rely on some help from the private sector. It may be asking too much to demand that companies that have long contracted with the federal government stop doing so altogether; indeed, this would probably cause as much harm and disruption to good public projects as it would help stop the sinister ones.
But the proposed “Muslim registry,” whether it be a computerized list of people from two dozen predominately Muslim nations who enter the country (as revealed in Kris Kobach’s fatuously exposed Homeland Security agenda) or a list of all Muslims in the U.S., is both morally appalling and effectively pointless. In November 2015, asked by a reporter if the country should create “a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country,” Trump replied, “There should be a lot of systems … beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.” The New York Times reported that Trump added he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.” At a rally later that week, he told the crowd, “So the database — I said yeah, that’s all right, fine.” The next day, George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, “Are you unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims?” Trump replied, “No, not at all.” Although Trump attempted to walk back these comments during the campaign, a registry of some form is now back on the table, at least as far as Kobach is concerned.
Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand — pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn’t take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We’d also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that “most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.”)
With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: . . .
The way companies march to the drumbeat of an authoritarian government is well documented. Today I read this post on Facebook:
When I was in 7th grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all very silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like “See how easy that was?” We were reading “Anne Frank.” I started to understand. I just thought now was a good time to share this story. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.
The same thing virtually all corporations are doing: collaborating in the compromise of our Constitutional values.
The smoke alarm in our apartment hallway will erupt with noise when I attempt high-temperature roasting: bacon, steak, roast, whatever. It’s a great pain.
It can be prevented, of course, by removing the battery, but then one should replace the battery, which can take a while because it’s a bother.
In hotel bathrooms with a heat lamp, the switch is a timer: you can turn on the heat lamp, but after a certain amount of time (usually the maximum is 30 minutes), the timer reaches zero and the lamp is turned off.
So here’s what I want: an off-switch with timer for the smoke alarm. If I’m going to cook something that will trigger the alarm, I can turn the alarm off, but when the timer runs out, the alarm goes back on. An hour should be ample.
Of course, this may already exist, but I doubt it.
They’re battening down the hatches: Internet Archive putting database in Canada to keep it from Trump
Clearly a lot of companies and organizations and individuals (e.g., me) think we’re in for a very rough ride. Take a look at this report.