New Speak: Editorial Control Becomes Custom Results

March 5, 2020

Just a small thing. Newspapers, magazines, and book editors (well, once in a while) once exercised editorial control. The idea was simple: Reasonably well-educated people who were sober (one hoped) would screen and select content to appear in their respective content outputs. A “content output” in the Okay, Boomer hay day were printed artifacts: A daily paper (no reminders about yellow journalism, please), magazines (no snide comments about multi-year renewal offers a few weeks after a new subscription was started, and books (please, no remarks about samizdat).

Pinterest Is Combating Corona Virus Misinformation with Custom Search Results” says:

The company told The Verge it’s introducing a “custom search experience” to ensure its users can get reliable information when they turn to the platform for information about the epidemic. With the new experience in place, the next time you search for “Corona Virus” and “COVID-19,” Pinterest will surface curated pins created by the World Health Organization.

Yikes, adulting. Now let’s use simple words like “selected,” “editorial judgment,” “controls,” etc. “Old speak” still works.

Progress, modest but still progress.

Stephen E Arnold, March 5, 2020

Amazon: Buying More Innovation

February 26, 2020

DarkCyber noted the article “Amazon Acquires Turkish Startup Datarow.” The word “startup” is rather loosely applied. Datarow was founded in 2016. Not a spring chicken in DarkCyber’s view is a four year old outfit.

What’s interesting about this acquisition is that it provides the sometimes unartful Amazon with an outfit that specializes in making easier-to-use data tools. The firm appears to have been built around AWS Redshift.


The company’s quite wonky Web site says:

We’re proud to have created an innovative tool that facilitates data exploration and visualization for data analysts in Amazon Redshift, providing users with an easy to use interface to create tables, load data, author queries, perform visual analysis, and collaborate with others to share SQL code, analysis, and results. Together with AWS, we look forward to taking our tool to the next level for customers.

The company provides what it calls “data governance,” a term which DarkCyber means “get your act together” with regard to information. This is easier said than done, but it is a hot button among companies struggling to reduce costs, comply with assorted rules and regulations, and figure out what’s actually happening in their lines of business. Profit and loss statements are not up to the job of dealing with diverse content, audio, video, real time data, and tweets. Well, neither is Amazon, but that’s not germane.

Will Amazon AWS Redshift (love the naming, don’t you?) become easier to use? Perhaps Datarow will become responsible for the AWS Web site?

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2020

Twitter: Embracing Management Maturity?

January 20, 2020

Twitter has a new initiative in 2020 to keep academic researchers honest, although it is not advertised in that manner. TechCrunch shares the details in the article, “Twitter Offers More Support To Researchers-To ‘Keep Us Accountable.’” Twitter’s new support for academic researchers is a new hub called “Twitter Data for Academic Researchers” and it has easier access to Twitter’s information and support about its APIs. Within the hub, one can apply for a developer account, links for researcher tools, and information about the APIs Twitter offers.

Twitter apparently added the Twitter Data for Academic Researchers hub this year based off researchers’ demands. The social media platform states they want to encourage communication and offer more support between developers. One reason Twitter wants more transparency and easier communication with its developers is due to the United States’s 2020 presidential election. Twitter, like most social media platforms, wants to cut down the number of bots and/or false news reports that effected the 2016 election. There is also the need to tamper down these accounts on a regular basis:

“Tracking conversation flow on Twitter also still means playing a game of ‘bot or not’ — one that has major implications for the health of democracies. And in Europe Twitter is one of a number of platform giants which, in 2018, signed up to a voluntary Code of Practice on disinformation that commits it to addressing fake accounts and online bots, as well as to empowering the research community to monitor online disinformation via “privacy-compliant” access to platform data.”

Twitter wants to support its developer community, but the transparency also makes it easier for Twitter to hold people responsible for their actions. They are keeping tabs on how their technology is used, while also assisting developers with their work. It is a great idea and if trouble arises, it might make it easier to track down the bad actors who started the mess. It is also another score for Twitter, because Facebook does not support academics well. Facebook has altered its APIs for researchers and Facebook does not want to stop false information spreading.

Whitney Grace, January 20, 2020

MIT and Ethics for the 21st Century: A New Spin on Academia, Ethics, and Technology

January 13, 2020

Yes, a new spin. There is nothing like spin, particularly when an august institution has accepted money from an interesting person. Who is this fascinating individual?

Jeffrey Epstein, alleged procurer, human trafficker, and hobnobber with really great and wonderful people.

I read, with some disgust, “Eight Revelations from MIT’s Jeffrey Epstein Report,” which was conveniently published in Technology Review, an organ of truth and insight affiliated with MIT. For context, I had just completed “Alphabet’s Top Lawyer to Retire after Google Founders Leave,” which appeared in the Bloomberg news-iverse. You remember Bloomberg, the outfit which reported with some nifty assertions that motherboard spying was afoot.

But to MIT and Epstein, then a comment about the sterling outfit Google.

MIT’s write up explained that MIT was prudent. Instead of accepting $10 million from the interesting and now allegedly deceased Mr. Epstein, the university accepted a mere $800,000. Such restraint. And that’s the subtitle for the write up!

What are the eight teachings derived from the fraternization, support, and joy of accepting the interesting Mr. Epstein? Here you go, gentle reader:

  1. The relationship for money extended over 15 years. Such tenacity.
  2. The hook up with Mr. Epstein were happenstance. Maybe MIT was seduced?
  3. The $10 million didn’t happen, but the donations had to be anonymous. Such judgment.
  4. It was the MIT Corporation, not the real school.
  5. Mr. Epstein prevaricated about his donations. Quite a surprise, of course. Lies, deception, manipulation, etc. etc.
  6. Mr. Epstein attended real MIT events, like the funeral for “AI pioneer Marvin Minsky.” An icon, of course.
  7. No big wheels like Bill Gates were involved in directing Mr. Epstein’s money. Perhaps a bit of color on this point would be helpful.
  8. A real MIT professional asserted that Mr. Epstein was a person whom MIT “should treat with respect.”

And the write up concludes, “The Media Lab [a unit of MIT] rejected $25,000, Mr. Epstein tried to donate in 2019. Another example of judgment.

To sum up, quite a write up about an institution which I assume offers a course in ethics. Well, maybe not. Full disclosure: I was quote in the MIT Technology Review late in 2019. I was not thrilled with that association with an outfit will to treat Mr. Epstein with respect.

Now to the Google. The world’s largest online advertising agency seems to be channeling the antics of Madison Avenue in the 1950s. In this episode of the Science Club Explores Biological Impulses”, I learned:

David Drummond, the legal chief of Google parent Alphabet Inc. and a company veteran, stepped down following questions about his conduct at the technology giant.

The conduct may have involved another Googler. What do two Googlers create? Why another Googler it seems. Who knew that Madison Avenue extended from New York City to Mountain View, California.

Net net: Two outfits with people who should have known about propriety demonstrated poor judgment. Look for slightly used ethical compasses on eBay. Lightly used but likely to manifest flawed outputs.

I would suggest that certain non technical behaviors qualify as grounds for viewing MIT and Google as very poorly managed institutions staffed by individuals who operate from a position above the “madding crowd.”

Stephen E Arnold, January 13, 2020

Are Media Worthless? Matt Taibbi Says Yes

January 3, 2020

Robert Steele, a former US spy whom I know, and also the top reviewer for non-fiction books in English, has published Review: Hate Inc. Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi and given the book five stars, calling it “”totally brilliant.”

I was drawn to this statement in Steele’s review:

There will come a time, guaranteed, when Americans pine for a powerful neither-party-aligned news network, to help make sense of things.

Steele’s review appears to provide a concise summary of the book that those who worry about accuracy, data integrity, ethics, and the concept of social value should find interesting. Steele concludes the review by noting:

The same is true of the intelligence community, and the academy, of non-profits and governments. Keep the money moving, never mind the facts.

Facts? Are facts irrelevant? Steele and Taibbi appear to agree that facts remain important. Dissenters: Possibly the “media?”

Stephen E Arnold, January 3, 2020

Silicon Valley: Management Talent Available for the Challenges of 2020?

December 24, 2019

Ho, ho, ho. It is the eve of a big time holiday. What do some Silicon Valley companies want to kick the festivities off in grand style? Fresh, experienced, capable management talent? New hires create new opportunities.

DarkCyber may have spotted several candidates. With proven leaders a company struggling in today’s difficult business climate may be able to revivify trust, increase market influence, and enhance credibility via key hires. Some MBAs believe that new management is just the ticket to win the revenue lottery.

Who are these candidates?

If the information in Reuters’ story “Boeing Fires CEO Muilenburg to Restore Confidence Amid 737 Crisis” is accurate, “Muilenburg’s departure followed a week of dramatic setbacks for Boeing, which vies with Europe’s Airbus for leadership of the $150 billion jet industry.” But one person’s setback is another company’s opportunity. It seems that this individual may be seeking his future elsewhere.

For companies looking for senior management talent for their European ventures, HR professionals may need to look no farther than the French executives who made headlines recently. According to “Three French Executives Convicted in the Suicides of 35 of Their Workers,” the method used to motivate colleagues was described as harcelement moral institutionnel. That means energetic constructive criticism.

DarkCyber believes that traditional hiring practices typically do a good job identifying and motivating professionals. Some individuals stand out for different reasons.

Stephen E Arnold, December 24, 2019

Facebook Helps Employees Think

December 4, 2019

I read the headline “Facebook Gives Workers a Chatbot to Appease That Prying Uncle. The “Liam Bot” Teaches Employees What to Say If Friends or Family Ask Difficult Questions about the Company over the Holidays.”

I thought “Liam” was a misspelling of “liar.” Upon a second look, I realized that “Liam” was a friendly, neutral, even trustworthy word.


Is this a photograph of one of Liam’s ancestors? DarkCyber believes that this is not Facebook’s Liam. But the possibility of this individual’s DNA finding its way to Facebook is interesting to contemplate.

The main point of the write up is that Facebook is not sure what employees will say when asked a question. To address the problem, the company has rolled out a smart system to provide some digital support to the Facebookers who have to answer spontaneously.

The write up explains that answer should point out that Facebook seeks information from experts. No definition of an “expert” is provided it seems. But that’s a minor point because we’re are doing damage control here, not thinking.

Other steps Facebook is taking to deal with interesting content includes contractors who review information before it goes live, identify hate speech, and other hand waving.

Google explained that volume makes it difficult to catch certain types of interesting content. Bigness is a burden for sure, right?

I circled in True Blue marker this statement from the write up:

In its answers, the Liam Bot often links to company blog posts and news releases. It doesn’t just provide answers to difficult questions about Facebook’s role in the world, either. Liam Bot is also practical with personal technology advice.

Several observations:

  1. A brain implant might be a useful supplement to Liam
  2. Activating the employee’s mobile phone to video and record conversation would provide useful training data
  3. Chat bots are quite useful, particularly when interacting in a spontaneous manner with friends and family. Why look a person in the eye. Just read from the mobile phone.\

Facebook is a pioneer following in the footsteps of individuals who wanted to control thinking and speaking. Who were these individuals?

Ask Liam, please. Not even IBM Watson can help with this question.

Stephen E Arnold, December 4, 2019

Is Google Thinking about Turkeys?

November 27, 2019

Is Google actually fearful of an authoritarian government? Google is okay with firing people who do not go along. Google exerts considerable force. Is Google is a company driven by dollar signs? Is it possible that Google fears anything and anyone that threatens its net profit? The Register explains the cause of Google’s fear in “Google Takes Sole Stand on Privacy, Rejects New Rules For Fear Of ‘Authoritarian’ Review.”

Google, like any company from a capitalist society, is leery of any organization that wishes to restrain its power. Google recently blocked a new draft for he Privacy Interest Group (PING)’s charter. PING is a member of the W3C web standards body. Google blocked the new draft, because it creates an unchecked authoritarian review group and will create “significant unnecessary chaos in the development of the web platform.”

PING exists to enforce technical specifications that W3C issued to respect people’s Web privacy. W3C provides horizontal review, where members share suggestions with technical specifications authors to ensure they respect privacy. Ever since the middle of 2019, PING’s sixty-eight members have tried to rewrite its charter. The first draft was shared with 450 W3C members, one of which is Google, and only twenty-six members responded. Of the twenty-six members, Google was the only one that objected.

Google supports PING’s horizontal review, bit the search engine giant did not want to invest in the new charter without the group having more experience. There are not many differences between the charter drafts:

“‘The new charter is not dramatically different from the existing one, Doty said in an email. ‘It includes providing input and recommendations to other groups that set process, conduct reviews or approve the progression of standards and mentions looking at existing standards and not just new ones. I think those would all have been possible under the old charter (which I drafted originally); they’re just stated more explicitly in this draft. It includes a new co-chair from Brave, in addition to the existing co-chairs from the Internet Society and Google.’

Doty said he’s not surprised there would be discussion and disagreement about how to conduct horizontal spec reviews. ‘I am surprised that Google chose to formally object to the continued existence of this interest group as a way to communicate those differences,’ he said.”

Doty hopes that Google will invest in PING and Web privacy, but Google’s stance is more adversarial. Google and other tech companies are worried about their business models changing of cookies are blocked. Google does not want to lose the majority of its business, which comes from advertising through its search engine. Google might protect privacy, but only so far as it does not interfere with their bottom line.

Whitney Grace, November 27, 2019

The Cost of Indifference and the Value of Data Governance

November 23, 2019

The DarkCyber team suggests a peek at “Unsecured Server Exposes 4 Billion Records, 1.2 Billion People.” The write up states:

The data itself comes from the data aggregator and enrichment companies People Data Labs (PDL) and OxyData.Io and contains basic personal information, such as names, home and mobile phone numbers and email addresses and what may be information scraped from LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media sources.

The write up points out that the data losses included:

  • Over 1.5 billion unique people, including close to 260 million in the U.S.
  • Over 1 billion personal email addresses. Work email for 70%+ decision makers in the US, UK, and Canada.
  • Over 420 million LinkedIn URLs.
  • Over 1 billion Facebook URLs and IDs.
  • 400 million plus phone numbers with more than 200 million U.S.-based valid cell phone numbers.

The hosting provider may have been Amazon AWS. The software system was Elasticsearch. The individuals were those who set up the system.

Without reploughing a somewhat rocky field, one might suggest that default settings for cloud services, software, and passwords need a rethink. One might want to think about the staff assigned to the job of setting up the system. One might want to think about the sources of the information the company named in the article tapped. In short, one could think about quite a few points of failure.

Another approach might be to raise the question of responsibility. I suppose this is a type of governance, a term which refers to figuring out what’s to be done and how to complete tasks without creating this all-too-common situation of whizzy systems’ functioning as convenience stores for those who want data.

A few observations:

First, the individuals involved in setting up this system were not, it seems, managed particularly well. That’s a problem when managers don’t know what to stipulate their contractors and employees must do to secure online services. These “individuals” work at different organizations. Thus, coordination and checks are difficult. But the alternative? Loss of data.

Second, the developers of the software understand the security implications of certain user actions. The fix is to purchase additional security. Security is not baked in. Security is an option. That approach may generate revenue, but the quest for revenue seems to have a downside. Loss of data.

Third, the operators of the cloud system continue to follow the “just a platform” approach to business. The idea is that the functionality of a cloud system makes it easy to deploy an application. In a hurry? No problem. Use the basics. Want something special? That takes time, and when done in a careless or partial way, loss of data.

It seems that “loss of data” may be preventable but loss of data is part of the standard operating procedure in the present managerial environment.

How does the problem become lessened? Governance. Will companies and individuals step up and go through the difficult task of figuring out what and how before losing data?

Unlikely. Painful lessons like the one revealed in the source article slip like rain water off the windshield of a car speeding down the information superhighway.

Dangerous? Sure. Will drivers slow down? Nope. The explanation after an accident was, “I don’t know. Car just skidded.” There’s insurance for automobile accidents. For cloud data wrecks, no consequences of a meaningful nature. Just blog posts. These are effective?

I will be talking about how the tendrils of the Dark Web and security lapses may create a greater interest in data governance. Exciting? Only if you were one of the billion or so whose personally identifiable information was put online in a less than secure way. I will be at the DG Vision Conference in Washington, DC, early in December 2019.

Stephen E Arnold, November 23, 2019

The GOOG: Bright People, Interesting Management Tactics

November 6, 2019

Silicon Valley is notorious for its leftist political leanings. As much as the workforce supports leftwing views, Silicon Valley leaders are more concerned with their bottom dollar and maintaining a politically correct image. BuzzFeed News shares that, “Google Removed Employee Questions About Its Hiring Of A Former DHS Staffer Who Defended The Muslim Travel Ban.”

In this recent example of maintaining an inoffensive image, Google removed questions related to hiring Miles Taylor, a former employee of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), on the internal Google message board, Dory. Dory is used to ask and vote on questions for management. Information was removed about Taylor due to his support of Trump’s travel ban of Muslims. Google staffers were especially upset about Taylor’s hiring in September 2019, because Google executives actually protested against policies Taylor implemented at the DHS.

Lately, Google is having many problems maintaining free expression for its staffers and “corporate harmony.” Earlier in 2019, Google settled with the National Labor and Review Board about the company’s attempts to prevent employees’ from discussing their dissatisfaction with the company.

Google defended hiring Taylor, because he was not involved in the original Muslim travel ban drafts nor the family separation. Google declined to comment on removing discussions about Taylor, but two close sources did confirm that some of the comments were removed because they were viewed as personal attacks on Taylor. Other discussions about him remained posted on Dory.

It is ironic that Google did hire Taylor based on the executives’ past views:

“Google and its leaders had voiced their strong opposition to the Muslim travel ban and family separations occurring at the Mexico border. In January 2017, following the announcement of the original travel ban, Google cofounder Sergey Brin joined protesters at San Francisco International Airport, while Google CEO Sundar Pichai pointedly voiced his displeasure on Twitter, in an email to staff, and in a much-publicized employee meeting.

‘The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching,’ Pichai tweeted as the Trump administration ramped up its anti-immigration policy in the summer of 2018. ‘Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation. #keepfamiliestogether.’”

Are Google executives unaware that their management decisions may be interpreted as off center? Are Google employees allowing politics to control their work place? Maybe it is reflective of the here and now?

Whitney Grace, November 6, 2019

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