US China Deal: The Honeymoon Will Not Last Long

January 17, 2020

DarkCyber spotted a write up called “China Bracing for US Tech War with Plan to Cut Reliance on Imports of Key Components to Just 25 Per Cent.” If the information in the write up is accurate, the implications for certain countries and companies selling to China could be interesting. We noted this statement in the article:

China is aiming to increase its reliance on domestic production for key components, including chips and controlling systems, to 75 per cent by 2025, according to a former minister.

So a dollar spent by China to shore up its Great Firewall will allegedly become $0.25 in 60 months or less.

This statement seemed to more of a warning and less of an olive branch extended to the US:

The move, which includes a series of plans to improve weak links in the areas of hi-tech research and crucial component development “one by one”, is seen as part of China’s preparation for a intensifying technology war with the United States.

(“China Must Rein in SOEs to Gain Upper Hand in Tech War, Help Private Firms like Huawei to Innovate” provides some color on China’s desire to become the dominant technology player in the future.)

To support the knowledge sector, the write up reveals:

China will also increase the number of “national manufacturing innovation centers” to 40 by 2025 from 11 at the end of 2019 “to cover all major industries”. China’s first national manufacturing innovation centre was launched in 2016, focusing on making and researching electric vehicle batteries.

The concluding section of the write up states the obvious:

is increasingly clear that a technology rivalry between China and US is set to deepen…with competition in next generation communication, 5G and artificial intelligence key areas of contention.

Net net: A calm before the storm.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2020

Amazon: Maybe a Restraining Order to Halt JEDI Deal?

January 15, 2020

We noted “Amazon to Seek Order to Block Microsoft From Working on US DoD’s JEDI Contract.” The story appears to have originated with Thomson Reuters, so we assume its ethical and accurate and other good Thomsony stuff.

Here’s the passage we circled in true blue marker:

Amazon.com will ask a judge to temporarily block Microsoft from working on a $10 billion cloud contract from the Pentagon, a court filing showed on Monday [January 13, 2020]. Amazon, which was seen as a favorite for the contract, plans to file a motion for a temporary restraining order on January 24 and a federal court will issue its decision on February 11, according to the filing.

After years on the trail, if true, Amazon may be paying a visit to the Last Chance Saloon. The interaction may go something like this:

Barista or baristo: What will you have, partner?

Amazonian: One JEDI, please.

Barista or baristo: You are out of luck. The last one went to those nice people over there. They’ve been fussing with a Windows 10 laptop for nigh on one hour.

Amazonian: What else you got?

Barista or baristo: The next big shipment don’t arrive until October 1, 2020. Wanna wait, partner?

Amazonian: Nope. [Sound of a Bezos bulldozer starting up and grinding toward the Middle East.]

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2020

DuckDuckGo Lands for European Search Users

January 14, 2020

I read “DuckDuckGo Beats Microsoft Bing In Google’s New Android Search Engine Ballot.” There have been numerous reports about this decision.

Digital Information World is a representative write up in today’s world of Google EU analysis. DarkCyber noted:

The introduction of this “choice screen” seems to be a clear response to the antitrust ruling from the European Union during last March and how Google was fined $5 billion by EU regulators. According to them, Google was playing illegally in tying up the search engine to its browser for mobile OS.

Okay. But how does a search engine get listed? We learned:

you can expect Google to not show search engines which are popular but the ones whose providers are willing to pay well.

The write up includes a run down of what search options will be displayed in each EU country. The ones we spotted are:

  • DuckDuckGo
  • GMX
  • Info.com
  • Privacy Wall
  • Qwant
  • Yandex.

Bing is a no show as are Giburu, iSeek, Mojeek, Yippy, and others. It is worth noting that some of these outfits are metasearch engines. This means that the systems send queries to Bing, Google, and other services and aggregate the results. Dogpile and Vivisimo were metasearch engines. DuckDuckGo and Ixquick (StartPage) are metasearch engines`.  The reason metasearch is available boils down to cost. It is very expensive to index the public Web.

The DarkCyber team formulated a few hypotheses about the auction, the limitations on default search engines, and the dominance of Google search in Europe; for example, Google accounts for more than 95 percent of the search traffic in Denmark. The same situation exists in Germany and other EU countries.

Will these choices make any difference? Sure, for small outfits like DuckDuckGo any increase in traffic is good news. But will the choices alter Google’s lock on search queries from Europe?

Not a chance.

Does anyone in the EU government know? Probably not. Do these people care? Not to much.

Remember one of my Laws of Information: Online generates natural monopolies. Here’s another Law: User behavior is almost impossible to change once mental memory locks in.

So Google gets paid and keeps on trucking.

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2020

Journalists: Welcome Your New Colleague Artificial Intelligence

January 12, 2020

Life is going to become more interesting for journalists. I use the word in its broadest possible sense. That includes the DarkCyber team, gentle reader. Who needs humans when smart software is available.

AI-Written Articles Are Copyright-Protected, Rules Chinese Court” explains that software can create content. Then that content is protected by copyright laws.

DarkCyber noted this statement:

According to state media outlet China News Service (CNS), a court in Shenzhen this month ruled in favor of Tencent, which claimed that work created by its Dreamwriter robot had been copied by a local financial news company. The Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court ruled that, in copying the Dreamwriter article, Shanghai Yingxun Technology Company had infringed Tencent’s copyright. Dreamwriter is an automated writing system created by Tencent and based on the company’s own algorithms.

Presumably software can ingest factoids, apply algorithms, and output new, fresh, and original information. No hanging out at the Consumer Electronic Show looking for solid information at real technology event. Imagine the value of creating “real” news without having to pay humans. No hotel, airplane, taxi, or meal expenses.

Special content can be produced on an industrialized scale like Double Happiness ping pong balls.

Upsides for journalists include:

  • Opportunities to explore new careers in fast food, blogging, and elder care
  • Time to study with coal miners learning to code
  • Mental space to implement entrepreneurial ideas like elderberry products designed for those who suffer from certain allergic responses.

Downsides, but only a few, of course, are:

  • No or reduced income
  • Loss of remaining self respect
  • Weight loss due to items one and two in this downside list
  • No need to have lunch with these content generators.

One question: What’s a nation state able to do with content robots?

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2020

Spies, Intelligence, and Publisher Motives

December 31, 2019

We are getting close to a new decade. This morning DarkCyber’s newsfeed contained two stories. These were different from the Year in Review and the What’s Ahead write ups that clog the info pipes as a year twists in the wind.

Even more interesting is the fact that the stories come from sources usually associated with recycled news releases and topics about innovations in look alike mobile phones, the antics of the Silicon Valley wizards, and gadgets rivaling the Popeil Pocket Fisherman in usefulness.

The first story is about Microsoft cracking down on a nation state which appears to have a desire to compromise US interests. “Microsoft Takes Down 50 Domains Operated by North Korean Hackers” states that:

Microsoft takes control of 50 domains operated by Thallium (APT37), a North Korean cyber-espionage group.

The write up added:

The domains were used to send phishing emails and host phishing pages. Thallium hackers would lure victims on these sites, steal their credentials, and then gain access to internal networks, from where they’d escalate their attacks even further.

DarkCyber finds this interesting. Specialist firms in the US and Israel pay attention to certain types of online activity. Now the outfit that brings the wonky Windows 10 updates and the hugely complex Azure cloud construct is taking action, with the blessing of a court. Prudent is Microsoft.

The second write up is “‘Shattered’: Inside the Secret Battle to Save America’s Undercover Spies in the Digital Age.” The write up appears to be the original work of Yahoo, a unit of Verizon. The article explains a breach and notes:

Whether the U.S. intelligence agencies will be able to make these radical changes is unclear, but without a fundamental transformation, officials warn, the nation faces an unprecedented crisis in its ability to collect human intelligence. While some believe that a return to tried and true tradecraft will be sufficient to protect undercover officers, others fear the business of human spying is in mortal peril and that the crisis will ultimately force the U.S. intelligence community to rethink its entire enterprise.

Note that the Yahoo original news story runs about 6,000 words. Buy a hot chocolate, grab a bagel, and chill as you work through the compilation of government efforts to deal with security, bad actors, bureaucratic procedures, and assorted dangers, clear, unclear, present, and missing in action. On the other hand, you can wait for the podcast because the write up seems to have some pot boiler characteristics woven through the “news.”

Read the original stories.

DarkCyber formulated several observations. Here they are:

  • Will 2020 be the year of intelligence, cyber crime, and government missteps related to security?
  • Why are ZDNet and Yahoo (both outfits with a history of wobbling from news release to news release) getting into what seems to be popularization of topics once ignored. Clicks? Ad dollars? Awards for journalism?
  • What will stories like these trigger? One idea is that bad actors may become sufficiently unhappy to respond. Will these responses be a letter to the editor? Maybe. Maybe not. Unintended consequences may await.

This new interest of ZDNet and Yahoo may be a story in itself. Perhaps there is useful information tucked into the Yahoo Groups which Verizon will be removing from public access in a couple of weeks. And what about that Microsoft activity?

Stephen E Arnold, December 31, 2019

Amazon UK Delivery: Maybe Headed for a Tailback on the M5?

December 30, 2019

CNN is signaling how it will approach Amazon in 2020. The online bookstore everyone loves is finding that its half billion dollar Deliveroo play might be caught in a traffic snarl in the UK. “Amazon’s Big Bet on UK Food Delivery Is in Jeopardy” reported:

Britain’s competition regulator is escalating its investigation into whether Amazon’s planned investment in UK food delivery company Deliveroo would reduce competition and harm consumers. The Competition and Markets Authority said in a statement Friday that it had opened a “phase 2” probe after the companies failed to address its concerns about how the deal would affect the market for online deliveries of restaurant meals and groceries.

Maybe dealing the UK regulators has the same priority as training Amazon delivery drivers?

We noted this statement:

The Competition and Markets Authority ordered Amazon to pause its investment in July while it investigated whether the deal amounted to a takeover. Earlier this month, the regulator said that it was also concerned that the deal would discourage Amazon from re-entering the online food delivery market as a competitor to Deliveroo in the future. The companies fought for the same customers before Amazon shuttered its Amazon Restaurants business last year.

Stepping back from the bangers and beans delivery to your flat in Kensington, DarkCyber perceives the harsh approach of the UK and CNN’s enthusiastic reporting of a meeting in a room painted with a weird green and yellow motif as signals that 2020 may not be kind to the Bezos bulldozer.

Stephen E Arnold, December 30, 2019

Cambridge Analytica: Maybe a New Name and Some of the Old Methods?

December 29, 2019

DarkCyber spotted an interesting factoid in “HH Plans to Work with the Re-Branded Cambridge Analytica to Influence 2021 Elections.”

The new company, Auspex International, will keep former Cambridge Analytica director Mark Turnbull at the helm.

Who is HH? He is President Hakainde Hichilema, serving at this time in Zambia.

The business focus of Auspex is, according to the write up:

We’re not a data company, we’re not a political consultancy, we’re not a research company and we’re not necessarily just a communications company. We’re a combination of all four.—Ahmad *Al-Khatib, a Cairo born investor

You can obtain some information about Auspex at this url: https://www.auspex.ai/.

DarkCyber noted the use of the “ai” domain. See the firm’s “What We Believe” information at this link. It is good to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2019

PubMed: Some Tweaks

December 27, 2019

PubMed.gov is an old school online information service. The user types in one or more terms, and the system generates a list of results. Controlled terms work better than “free text” guesses.

According to “Announcing the New PubMed”:

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is replacing the current version of the PubMed database with a newly re-designed version. The new version is now live and can be found at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.

The appearance of the site has been updated. To one of the DarkCyber team members, the logo was influenced by PayPal’s design motif. Clicking for pages of results has been supplanted by the infinite scroll. Personally, I prefer to know how many pages of results have been found for a particular query. But, just tell me, “Hey, boomer, you are stupid.” I get it.

The write up does not comment upon backlog, changes in editorial policy, and cleaning citations to weed out those which are essentially marketing write ups or articles with non reproducible results, wonky statistics, or findings unrelated to the main job of medicine. But you can use the service on a mobile phone.

Stephen E Arnold, December 27, 2019

How to Be Numero Uno in AI Even Though the List Has a Math Error and Is Incomplete

December 24, 2019

DarkCyber spotted an interesting college ranking. Unlike some of the US college guides which rank institutions of higher learning, the league table published by Yicai Global takes a big data approach. (Please, keep in mind that US college rankings are not entirely objective. There are niceties like inclusions, researcher bias, and tradition which exert a tiny bit of magnetic pull on these scoreboards.)

According to “Six Chinese Colleges Place in CSRankings’ Top Ten AI List”, the US and other non-Chinese institutions are simply not competitive. Note that “six” in the headline.

How were these interesting findings determined? The researchers counted the number of journal articles published by faculty at the institutions in the sample. DarkCyber noted this statement about the method:

CSRankings is an authoritative global ranking of computer science higher educational institutions compiled by the AMiner team at Tsinghua. Its grading rests entirely on the number of scholarly articles faculty members publish.

The more papers—whether good, accurate, or science fiction—was the sole factor. There you go. Rock solid research.

But let’s look at the rankings:

  1. Top AI institution in the world: Tsinghua University.
  2. Not listed. Maybe Carnegie Mellon University
  3. Peking University
  4. University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
  5. Not listed. Maybe MIT?
  6. Nanyang Technological University
  7. Not listed. Maybe Stanford, the University of Washington, or UCal Berkeley?
  8. Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  9. Not listed. Maybe Cambridge University
  10. Not listed. DarkCyber would plug in École nationale supérieure des Mines de Saint-Étienne whose graduates generally stick together or maybe the University of Michigan located in the knowledge wonderland that is Ann Arbor?

Notice that there are five Chinese institutions in the Top 10 list. Yeah, I know the source document said “six.” But, hey, this is human intelligence, not artificial intelligence at work.

Who’s in the Top 10. Apparently Carnegie Mellon and MIT were in the list, but that’s fuzzy. The write up references another study which ranked “all area” schools. Does MIT teach literature or maybe ethics?

To sum up: Interesting source, wonky method, and incomplete listing. Plus, there that weird six but just five thing.

CSRankings’ Liao Shumin may want to fluff her or his calligraphy brush for the next go round; otherwise, an opportunity to do some holiday coal mining in Haerwusu may present itself. “Holiday greetings from Inner Mongolia” may next year’s follow up story.

Stephen E Arnold, December 24, 2019

The Intercept Says Happy Holidays to Thomson Reuters

December 23, 2019

I read “How Ice Uses Social Media to Surveil and Arrest Immigrants.”

DarkCyber’s reaction to this story was, “What did Thomson Reuters do to warrant this Happy New Year greeting?” The good folks at Thomson Reuters are not the largest nor the only source of information for analysts—both commercial and governmental. The write describes a routine method of cross correlating items of information. The write up mentions a number of other outfits selling data to organizations. Hello, this is the commercial database business. The sector includes hundreds of companies, not just those who had a mostly forgotten connection to Lord Thomson of Fleet.

engraving food

Please, sir, may I have some rich, hearty soup, not thin gruel?

A few observations:

  • What other firms provide commercial data services to government agencies? Hint: LexisNexis, Experian, other government agencies, and lots, lots more.
  • When did this business begin? What were the first commercial firms operating in this business sector? Hint: History can be interesting if one goes back to the the days of RECON and SDC.
  • What are the sources of data available to entities which are not allies of the United States? Hint: Singapore’s information sector is booming for a reason.

But the big red herring in the write up is the failure to address the one important weakness in most of the existing data services. What do we get? Thin porridge like that fed Tiny Tim.

My point is that focusing on Thomson Reuters is a misrepresentation of how data can be cross correlated. What happens if a new service becomes available which provides a meta service? That’s a story.

If you want to obtain a copy of a report which describes one new service taking shape, send an email to darkcyber333 at yandex dot com. A government or company email address is required. Will there be exceptions? Nope.

No Happy New Years to Thomson Reuters from the Intercept and none from me for those wanting a document without the required email type.

I know, “Humbug.”

Stephen E Arnold, December 23, 2019

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