When Censorship Means More Money, Facebook Leans In

December 8, 2016

The article on Vanity Fair titled Facebook Is Reportedly Building a Censorship Tool to Win Over China suggests that the people nervous about what it will mean to address the fake news proliferation are correct. The fear that Facebook managing fake news stories might lead to actual censorship of the news is not so far-fetched after all. The article states,

Auditing fake news is considered to be a slippery-slope problem for the company, which is just now starting to use fact-checkers to “grade” the veracity of news stories shared on its Web site and to crack down on false or partially false news stories shared on Facebook. Still, beneath it all, Facebook remains a publicly traded company with a fiduciary duty to its shareholders—and that duty is to make money.

Zuckerberg’s interest in capturing China’s 700M+ internet users has led to the creation of a censorship tool that can “automatically suppress content in specific geographic areas.” The tool has not been implemented (yet), but it suggests that Zuckerberg has a flexible relationship with freedom of information, especially where money is at stake. And there is a lot of money at stake. The article delves into the confusion over whether Facebook is a media company or not. But whatever type of company it is, it is a company. And that means money comes first.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 8, 2016

Tor Comes to the Rescue of Turkish Online Activists

November 29, 2016

Authorities in Turkey have effectively banned the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Tor, however, has to come to the rescue of users, particularly online activists who want to get the word out about the social unrest in the country.

Motherboard in a report tiled Turks Are Flocking to Tor After Government Orders Block of Anti-Censorship Tools says:

Turkish Internet users are flocking to Tor, the anonymizing and censorship circumvention tool, after Turkey’s government blocked Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Usage of Tor inside of Turkey went up from around 18,000 users to 25,000 users on Friday, when the government started blocking the popular social media networks, according to Tor’s official metrics.

Apart from direct connection to the Tor Network through TOR browser, the network also allows users to use bridge relays that circumvent any access restrictions by ISPs. Though it’s not yet clear if ISPs in Turkey have also banned Tor access; however, the bridge relay connections have seen a spike in number since the ban was implemented.

It is speculated that the Government may have notified ISPs to ban Tor access, but failed to tell them to do so effectively, which becomes apparent here (a Tweet by a user):

I believe the government just sent the order and didn’t give any guide about how to do it,” Sabanc? told Motherboard in an online chat via Twitter. “And now ISPs trying to figure it out.

This is not the first time Tor has come to the rescue of online activists. One thing though is sure, more and more people concerned about their privacy or do not want to be repressed turning towards anonymous networks like Tor.

Vishal Ingole, November 29, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Facebook AI pro Throws Shade at DeepMind Headquarters

November 29, 2016

An AI expert at Facebook criticizes Google’s handling of  DeepMind, we learn in Business Insider’s article, “Facebook’s AI Guru Thinks DeepMind is Too Far Away from the ‘Mothership’.” Might Yann LeCun, said guru, be biased? Nah. He simply points out that DeepMind’s London offices are geographically far away from Google’s headquarters in California. Writer Sam Shead, on the other hand, observes that physical distance does not hamper collaboration the way it did before this little thing called the Internet came along.

The article reminds us of rumors that Facebook was eying DeepMind before Google snapped it up. When asked, LeCun declined to confirm or deny that rumor. Shead tells us:

LeCun said: ‘You know, things played out the way they played out. There’s a lot of very good people at DeepMind.’ He added: ‘I think the nature of DeepMind eventually would have been quite a bit different from what it is now if DeepMind had been acquired by a different company than Google.

Google and Facebook are competitors in some areas of their businesses but the companies are also working together to advance the field of AI. ‘It’s very nice to have several companies that work on this space in an open fashion because we build on each other’s ideas,’ said LeCun. ‘So whenever we come up with an idea, very often DeepMind will build on top of it and do something that’s better and vice versa. Sometimes within days or months of each other we work on the same team. They hire half of my students.

Hooray for cooperation. As it happens, London is not an arbitrary location for DeepMind. The enterprise was founded in 2010 by two Oxbridge grads, Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, along with UCL professor Shane Legg. Google bought the company in 2014, and has been making the most of their acquisition ever since. For example, Shead reminds us, Google has used the AI to help boost the efficiency of their data-center cooling units by some 40%. A worthy endeavor, indeed.

Cynthia Murrell, November 29, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

All the Things Watson Could Do

November 21, 2016

One of our favorite artificial intelligence topics has made the news again: Watson.   Technology Review focuses on Watson’s job descriptions and his emergence in new fields, “IBM’s Watson Is Everywhere-But What Is It?”  We all know that Watson won Jeopardy and has been deployed as the ultimate business intelligence solution, but what exactly does Watson do for a company?

The truth about Watson’s Jeopardy appearance is that very little of the technology was used. In reality, Watson is an umbrella name IBM uses for an entire group of their machine learning and artificial intelligence technology.  The Watson brand is employed in a variety of ways from medical disease interpretation to creating new recipes via experimentation.  The technology can be used for many industries and applied to a variety of scenarios.  It all depends on what the business needs resolved.  There is another problem:

Beyond the marketing hype, Watson is an interesting and potentially important AI effort. That’s because, for all the excitement over the ways in which companies like Google and Facebook are harnessing AI, no one has yet worked out how AI is going to fit into many workplaces. IBM is trying to make it easier for companies to apply these techniques, and to tap into the expertise required to do so.

IBM is experiencing problems of its own, but beyond those another consideration to take is Watson’s expense.  Businesses are usually eager to incorporate new technology, if the benefit is huge.  However, they are reluctant for the initial payout, especially if the technology is still experimental and not standard yet.  Nobody wants to be a guinea pig, but someone needs to set the pace for everyone else.  So who wants to deploy Watson?

Whitney Grace, November 21, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Xoogler Interviews Facebooker about Smart Software

November 16, 2016

I read “Facebook’s Yann LeCun On Everything AI”. I cannot resist write ups that purport to cover “everything” in a 400 word write up. The main point of the article in my opinion was:

since 95% of today’s AI training is done under supervised learning, the amount of information a machine has is limited and it is therefore not able to escape set boundaries. He also stated, however, that it’s too early to make predictions and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that this status quo remains unchanged in 30-50 years from now.

The write up points to a video of the 18 minute lecture.

My reaction was that it was interesting to me that Dr. Thrun, a Stanford professor and a Google VP and Google Fellow, conducted the softball interview.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2016

Iceland Offers the First Human Search Engine

November 8, 2016

Iceland is a northern country that one does not think about much.  It is cold, has a high literacy rate, and did we mention it was cold?  Despite its frigid temperatures, Iceland is a beautiful country with a rich culture and friendly people.  shares just how friendly the Icelanders are with their new endeavor: “Iceland Launches ‘Ask Guðmundur,’ The World’s First Human Search Engine.”

Here is what the country is doing:

The decidedly Icelandic and truly personable service will see special representatives from each of Iceland’s seven regions offer their insider knowledge to the world via Inspired By Iceland’s social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube).   Each representative shares the name Guðmundur or Guðmunda, currently one of the most popular forenames in the country with over 4,000 men and women claiming it as their own.

Visitors to the site can literally submit their questions and have them answered by an expert.  Each of the seven Guðmundurs is an Icelandic regional expert.  Iceland’s goal with the human search engine is to answer’s the world’s questions about the country, but to answer them in the most human way possible: with actual humans.

A human search engine is an awesome marketing campaign for Iceland.  One of the best ways to encourage tourism is to introduce foreigners to the locale people and customs, the more welcoming, quirky, and interesting is all the better for Iceland.  So go ahead, ask Guðmundur.

Whitney Grace, November 8, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

DataSift and Its Getting the Most from Facebook Series

November 6, 2016

There’s been some chatter about Facebook’s approach to news. For some researchers, Facebook is a high value source of information and intelligence. If you want to get a sense of what one can do with Facebook, you may find the DataSift series “Getting the Most from Facebook” helpful.

At this time there are six blog posts on this topic, you can locate the articles via the links below. Each write up contains a DataSift commercial:

  1. Types of social networks
  2. What data analytics can be used on Facebook data
  3. Facebook topic data
  4. Topic data use cases and drawbacks
  5. Why use filters
  6. Pylon specific tips but these apply to other analytics systems as well.

The write ups illustrate why law enforcement and intelligence professionals find some Facebook information helpful. Markets are probably aware of the utility of Facebook information, but to get optimum results, discipline must be applied to the content Facebookers generate at a remarkable rate.

Stephen E Arnold, November 6, 2016

Dark Web Is a Double Edged Sword

November 3, 2016

Apart from hackers and criminals of all kind, the Dark Web is also used by whistleblowers and oppressed citizens for communicating. The Dark Web thus is one of the most secure modes of communicating online; more than secure apps like WhatsApp.

The Newsweek in an article titled How the Dark Web Works and What It Looks Like says:

Dark web technologies are robustly built without central points of weakness, making it hard for authorities to infiltrate. Another issue for law enforcement is that—like most things—the dark web and its technologies can also be used for both good and evil.

Despite backdoors and exploits, law enforcement agencies find it difficult to track Dark Web participants. Few technology companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google through its messenger apps promise to provide end-to-end encryption to its users. However, the same companies now are harvesting data from these apps for commercial purposes. If that is the case, these apps can no longer be trusted. As pointed out by the article:

And yet some of these same communications companies have been harvesting user data for their own internal processes. Famously, Facebook enabled encryption on WhatsApp, protecting the communications from prying eyes, but could still look at data in the app itself.

Thus, for now, it seems Dark Web is the only form of secure communication online. It, however, needs to be seen how long the formless and headless entity called Dark Web remains invincible.

Vishal Ingole, November 3, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Facebook Still Having Trouble with Trending Topics

October 28, 2016

Despite taking action to fix its problems with Trending Topics,  Facebook is still receiving criticism on the issue. A post at Slashdot tells us, “The Washington Post Tracked Facebook’s Trending Topics for 3 Weeks, Found 5 Fake Stories and 3 Inaccurate Articles.” The Slashdot post by msmash cites a Washington Post article. (There’s a paywall if, like me, you’ve read your five free WP articles for this month.) The Post monitored Facebook’s Trending Topics for three weeks and found that issue far from resolved. Msmash quotes the report:

The Megyn Kelly incident was supposed to be an anomaly. An unfortunate one-off. A bit of (very public, embarrassing) bad luck. But in the six weeks since Facebook revamped its Trending system — and a hoax about the Fox News Channel star subsequently trended — the site has repeatedly promoted ‘news’ stories that are actually works of fiction. As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate. On top of that, we found that news releases, blog posts from sites such as Medium and links to online stores such as iTunes regularly trended. Facebook declined to comment about Trending on the record.

It is worth noting that the team may not have caught every fake story, since it only checked in with Trending Topics once every hour. Quite the quandary. We wonder—would a tool like Google’s new fact-checking feature help? And, if so, will Facebook admit its rival is on to something?

Cynthia Murrell, October 28, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Posting to the Law Enforcement Database

October 28, 2016

The article titled Police Searches of Social Media Face Privacy Pushback on Underground Network discusses the revelations of an NPR article of the same name. While privacy laws are slow to catch up to the fast-paced changes in social media, law enforcement can use public data to track protesters (including retroactive tracking). The ACLU and social media networks are starting to push back against the notion that this is acceptable. The NPR article refers to the Twitter guidelines,

The guidelines bar search companies from allowing law enforcement agencies to use the data to “investigate, track or surveil Twitter’s users (…) in a manner that would require a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process or that would otherwise have the potential to be inconsistent with our users’ reasonable expectations of privacy.” But that policy is very much open to interpretation, because police don’t usually need legal orders to search public social media…

Some police departments have acknowledged that fuzziness around privacy laws puts the onus on them to police their own officers. The Dunwoody, Georgia police department requires supervisor approval for social media searches. They explain that this is to prevent targeting “particular groups” of people. According to the article, how this issue unfolds is largely up to police departments and social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to decide. But social media has been around for over a decade. Where are the laws defining and protecting our privacy?

Chelsea Kerwin, October 28, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Next Page »