Google, Insubordination, and Policies

June 10, 2018

Are we reading this right? It almost seems as if this campaign is very directly urging certain workers to be insubordinate; Recode reports, “Google Employees Are Being Targeted With This Ad Urging Them To Consider Their Role In Making Search Rankings More Fair.” The group behind the social-media ads is called Focus on the User, and is spearheaded, significantly, buy Yelp and TripAdvisor. The video, promoted on social media, very specifically targets Google employees and their own personal ethics on the matter of fairness in search rankings. Reporter Shirin Ghaffary writes:

“The video claims that Google gives ‘preferential treatment to some of its own content’ such as local listings. (Thus the interest from Yelp and TripAdvisor.) The argument: Instead of Google showing the most relevant results, the company sidesteps its own algorithm to show you only ‘what Google wants you see’ — which is often Google’s own content. It’s an issue that Yelp has taken up publicly with the search giant for years; it recently filed a complaint with the EU’s antitrust watchdog. Google, though, is still Google: Massive, profitable and growing. Google has publicly denied similar claims. But the video calls for Google employees to ‘share this message and discuss it with your colleagues’ — and to bring it up at all-hands meetings.”

This is an interesting approach; we wonder if it will work. Ghaffary points to recent employee protest and even resignations in the face of Google’s military-related endeavors, so perhaps this appeal to the underlings will make some difference.

We also found interesting two developments for the online ad giant.

First, the company issued policies that seem to assure anyone interested about Google and the military. “In Wake of Project Maven Backlash, Google Unveils New AI Policies,” I learned:

In a blog post, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company won’t stop working with the military entirely: It will still potentially work with the armed forces on areas including cybersecurity, recruitment and training, veterans’ healthcare and search and rescue. Google is widely seen as a potential contender for a massive contract to move Defense Department systems to cloud servers.

So we are or we aren’t?

The second item is that Google does quite a bit of government work. The details appear in “The Ties between Silicon Valley and the Military Run Deep.” For a “real” journalism outfit, I found the omission of Google’s team up with In-Q-Tel to help fund Recorded Future interesting.

Net net: What’s true? What’s a policy? What’s government work?

Answer: Money, influence, and a way to capture business which will block competitors like Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and many others from extending their technology in agencies struggling to tap into simpler, more effective technologies.

The problem is that no one wants to just be up front about the revenue potential, the competitive stakes on the table, and the influence certain projects deliver.

Ever wonder who designed the US Navy? Worth checking out to understand how contracts and projects can cascade through the decades and pose competitive barriers for many other firms.

Yep, some companies listen to their employees and then move forward. Like an aircraft carrier. Do you have the answer to the Navy question in hand?

Cynthia Murrell, June 10, 2018

Short Honk: Contracting Newbies

June 4, 2018

I read “As Google Quits Controversial Project Maven, Mystery Deepens over Role of Other Tech Firms.”

Google has employees who do not want Google to do certain types of work.

I find this darned interesting. I circled this statement from the write up:

Google has also reportedly pledged to unveil new principles guiding its ethical use of artificial intelligence technology. That promise has already been met with skepticism by the Tech Workers Coalition, a group calling for Silicon Valley companies “to stay out of the business of war” and develop ethics standards for AI.

There are companies doing work from the US government and other countries’ governments as well. How does one handle work which is tagged “secret”?

The management approach which Google is using is almost as interesting as having employees create a situation which, in effect, is quite different from those within which I worked before I retired.

I noted a reference to a company for which I happily labored. That firm? Booz, Allen. The write up points out that Booz, Allen declined to comment for the write up.

Partitions, need to know, separate facilities, and other mechanisms exist to provide technology, engineering services, support, and products to governments.

This is a surprise or somehow improper now?

I suppose a company could allow its employees to vote on which tender offers to bid. I am not sure how that approach would match up with requirements for secure facilities, employees with clearances, and expertise in the specific task with which a government seeks assistance.

This management by squeaky wheel will be interesting to track as the management wagon is pulled by workers who agree to providing motive force. Contracting newbies at work methinks.

Stephen E Arnold, June 4, 2018


Metadata Collection Spike: Is There a Reason?

May 6, 2018

I read “NSA Triples Metadata Collection Numbers Sucking Up over 500 Million Call Records in 2017.” Interesting report, but it raised several questions here in Harrod’s Creek. But first, let’s look at the “angle” of the story.

I noted this statement:

The National Security Agency revealed a huge increase in the amount of call metadata collected, from about 151 million call records in 2016 to more than 530 million last year — despite having fewer targets.

The write up pointed out that penetration testing and trace and tap orders declined. That’s interesting as well.

The write up focused on what’s called “call detail records.” These, the write up explained, are:

things like which numbers were called and when, the duration of the call, and so on…

The write up then reminds the reader that “one target can yield hundreds or thousands of sub-targets.”

The article ends without any information about why. My impression of the write up is that the government agency is doing something that’s not quite square.

My initial reaction to the data in the write up was, “That does not seem like such a big number.” A crawl of the Dark Web, which is a pretty tiny digital space, often generates quite a bit of metadata. Stuffing the tiny bit of Dark Web data into a robust system operated by companies from Australia to the United States can produce terabytes of data. In fact, one Israeli company uploads new data in zipped block to its customers multiple times a day. The firm of which I am thinking performs this work for outfits engaged in marketing consumer products. In comparison, the NSA effort strikes me as modest.

My first question, “Why so little data?” Message, call, image, and video data are going up. The corresponding volume of metadata is going up. Toss in link analysis pointers, and that’s a lot of data. In short, the increase reported seems modest.

The second question is, “What factors contributed to the increase?” Based on our research, we think that some of the analytic systems are bogged down due to the wider use of message encryption technology. I will be describing one of these systems in my June 2018 Telestrategies ISS lecture related to encrypted chat. I wonder if the change in the volume reported in the write up is related to encryption.

My third question is, “Is government analysis of message content new or different?” Based on the information I have stumbled upon here in rural Kentucky, my thought is that message traffic analysis has been chugging along for decades. I heard an anecdote when I worked at a blue chip consulting firm. It went something like this:

In the days of telegrams, the telegraph companies put paper records in a bag, took them to the train station in Manhattan, and sent them to Washington, DC.

Is the anecdote true or false? My hunch is that it is mostly true.

My final question triggered by this article is, “Why does the government collect date?” I suppose the reasons are nosiness, but my perception is that the data are analyzed in order to get a sense of who is doing what which might harm the US financial system or the country itself.

My point is that numbers without context are often not helpful. In this case, the 2010 Pew Data reported that the average adult with a mobile makes five calls per day. Text message volume is higher. With 300 million people in the US in 2010 and assuming 30 percent mobile phone penetration, the number of calls eight years ago works out to about 1.5 billion calls. Flash forward to the present. The “number” cited in the article seems low.

Perhaps the author of the article could provide more context, do a bit of digging to figure out why the number is what it is, and explain why these data are needed in the first place.

One can criticize the US government. But I want to know a bit more.

Net net: It seems that the NSA is showing quite a bit of focus or restraint in its collection activities. In the May 16, DarkCyber, I report the names of some of the companies manufacturing cell site simulators. These gizmos are an interesting approach to data collection. Some of the devices seem robust. To me, capturing 500 million calls seems well within the specifications of these devices.

But what do I know? I can see the vapor from a mine drainage ditch from my back window. Ah, Kentucky.

Stephen E Arnold, May 6, 2018

Amazon Dumps Domain Fronting

May 2, 2018

Short honk: Beyond Search noted this article: “Amazon Closes Anti-Censorship Loophole on Its Servers.” The main idea is that urls can be obfuscated. The purpose of domain fronting ranges from simplifying traffic flow for users or systems or to permit a VPN type function without using a user installed VPN. The write up points out:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is cracking down on domain fronting, a practice that some folks use to get round state-level internet censorship of the likes seen in China and Russia (among other countries).

A couple of points:

  • Facebook has taken some steps to make secret communications less secret. The founder of WhatsApp (which Facebook acquired) has apparently quit over this privacy affecting change.
  • Google stopped supporting domain fronting
  • A number of countries have taken steps to crack down on messaging which cannot be decrypted.

But the Amazon change is more interesting for the Beyond Search team. Is it possible that Amazon is streamlining its systems in order to create a new service platform?

Our colleagues who work on the DarkCyber news program have raised this possibility.

Is Amazon ready to reveal its next big thing? The success of that next big thing may pivot on becoming more government centric. Could that be happening to everyone’s favorite digital Wal-Mart?

Worth monitoring or attending my lecture about the possible Amazon play at the Telestrategies ISS conference in Prague in about three weeks. I will be taking a look at what’s called cross correlation. More information about that is located at this Wolfram Mathworld link.

Stephen E Arnold, May 2, 2018

Maven Initiative: More AI for US Military?

May 2, 2018

We receive an update on AI in the field of intelligence from International Business Times in their article, “What Is Project Maven? The Pentagon’s New AI Is Hunting Terrorists in the Wild.” Machine-learning tool Maven was developed in-house, and has already been put into service in the Middle East. As good AI’s are wont to do, we’re told the platform learns from experience and has reached an 80% accuracy rate in target identification. That sounds pretty good. (Unless one finds oneself in the 20%, I suppose.) Paired with drones, Maven can be quite effective; it is designed to interface with the georegistration system Minotaur, currently in use by our Navy and Marine Corps. Reporter India Ashok writes:

“While the AI system was deployed in the Middle East, it reportedly helped US intelligence analysts identify objects in a video of a battlefield captured by a ScanEagle drone. In 2018, the Project Maven team will reportedly work on automating battlefield drone video analysis. By the next summer, the team reportedly hopes to incorporate the AI system’s capabilities with larger UAVs such as the Predator and Reaper drones. The team is also reportedly planning to incorporate Maven into the Gorgon Stare, a high-tech series of cameras mounted on Reaper drones, which can view entire towns. Equipping such Reaper drones with the Maven algorithm will likely allow intel analysts to cast a wider net around the area and also likely identify civilian areas. Maven’s deployment might not only revolutionize war tech, but also reshape the way intel analysts perform. The success of the project might also likely boost support for AI operations further in other defense programs.”

Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. Shanahan sees the project as the beginning of an effective partnership between humans and machines. He believes every aspect of the Department of Defense could be enhanced by machine learning and expects that, by the end of the year, analysts will have developed many creative uses for the ever-evolving Maven. No doubt.

Cynthia Murrell, May 2, 2018

Regulating Facebook and Unexpected Consequences

April 23, 2018

After Mark Zuckerberg’s mostly frothy and somewhat entertaining testimonies for Congress and the Senate, what are we left with? Some tea leaves are saying that Facebook will likely be permitted to self regulate.

What happens if governments step in. One commentator worries not just for our privacy, but for society as a whole. We learned more from a recent Guardian story, “Facebook is a Tyranny and Our Government Isn’t Built to Stop it.”

According to the story:

“Many ideas for regulatory reforms to protect privacy fail to address the governance problems we face. Our government was not built to counter the tyranny of the global corporation…. “With the fervor of the early US founders, we need to debate and adopt a new structure for self-government that is strong enough to counter the global monopolies of the 21st century. Our liberty is at stake.”

Is Facebook really that serious of a threat? We’re ones to pump the brakes a little on this subject. However, that doesn’t mean that social media needs to change. Many people are inventing suggestions for ways in which Washington can regulate this world. Many are bunk, but some are legitimately solid. One that we have been leaning toward is a Digital Consumer Protection Agency. This keeps the senator and congress, who proved how shockingly little they know about social media when they grilled Zuckerberg, out of the fray.

Allegedly accurate information surfaced in Buzzfeed. The article “Cambridge Analytica Data Scientist Aleksandr Kogan Wants You To Know He’s Not A Russian Spy” will certainly spark some additional discussion of governance at Facebook and Cambridge University.

Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian, who appears to have been a key module in the Cambridge Analytica data service is quoted as saying, “I am not a Russian spy.” That’s good to know. The academic asserts that he was doing research. He wrote journal papers about that research. In fact, he wrote papers with Facebook professionals. He also “believes” that his work had not impact on elections. The information in the article is interesting.

Four observations:

  1. Government officials who do not understand Facebook are likely to find themselves relying on Facebook lobbyists for guidance.
  2. Facebook itself can continue to operate and use clever maneuvers to sidestep some regulations.
  3. With more than two billion users, Facebook has the capability of becoming a messaging system for itself.
  4. The story will continue to have momentum.

One unintended consequence is that it will be business as usual for Facebook.

Patrick Roland, April 23, 2018

FOIA Suit Seeks Details of Palantirs Work with ICE

March 21, 2018

Well, this should be interesting. The Electronic Privacy Information Center ( has announced, “EPIC FOIA- EPIC Sues for Details of Palantir’s Government Systems.” The brief write-up reports the watchdog’s complaint requesting information on the relationship between data-analysis firm Palantir and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The announcement specifies:

The federal agency contracted with the Peter Thiel company to establish vast databases of personal information, and to make secret determinations about the opportunities for employment, travel, and also who is subject to criminal investigations. EPIC is seeking the government contracts with Palantir, as well as assessments and other related documents. The ICE Investigative Case Management System and the FALCON system pull together vast troves of personal data from across the federal government. EPIC wrote in the complaint, ‘Palantir’s “big data” systems raise far-reaching privacy and civil liberties risks.’

Palantir’s role in creating “risk assessment” scores for travelers (US citizens and non-citizens alike) was revealed through an earlier FOIA lawsuit from EPIC. It would be interesting to see what information the organization is able to shake loose.

Cynthia Murrell, March 21, 2018

Google Accused of Censorship

March 13, 2018

Google, Facebook, and other social media and news outlets are concerned with fake news.  They have taken preliminary measures to curb false, but Live Mint says, “Google Is Filtering News For The Wrong Reason.”  Google, like other news outlets and social media platforms, is a business. While it delivers products and services, its entire goal is to turn a profit.  Anything that affects the bottom line, such as false information, is deemed inappropriate.

Google deemed the Russian government-owned news Web sites RT and Sputnik as false information generators, so the search engine giant has reworked its ranking algorithm.  The new ranking algorithm pushes RT and Sputnik way down in news searches.  Live Mint explained that this made RT and Sputnik victims, but Google does not want to ban these Web sites.  Instead, Google has other ideas:

Schmidt’s words are a riff on an April post by Google vice president of engineering Ben Gomes, who teased changes to how Google searches for news. New instructions targeted “deceptive web pages” that look like news but seek to “manipulate users” with conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and inaccurate information. ‘We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content,’ Gomes wrote.

The author makes a poignant argument about why it is bad for businesses to alter their services, such as a news aggregator, to avoid bad press and increase regulation on them.  He also argues that false information Web sites are harmful, but it is not Google’s responsibility to censor them.

It is a good point, but when people take everything printed on the Internet as fact someone has to take the moral argument to promote the truth.

Whitney Grace, March 13, 2018

Short Honk: Palantir Technologies and DCGS

March 10, 2018

I don’t know if the information in “Army Taps Raytheon, Palantir for Potential $876M Ground Intell system Support Contract.” The Beyond Search and Dark Cyber teams will monitor the subject. The GovConWire stated on March 9, 2018:

Raytheon and Palantir Technologies have won spots on a potential 10-year, $876 million contract to help the U.S. Army address technology requirements for the service branch’s Distributed Common Ground System.

If on the money, this is big news. Our perception was that Palantir was not in the DCGS winner’s circle. Looks like IBM and its technology partners have to adapt.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2018

Facebook Begins Censoring Content for Good and Ill

March 5, 2018

Facebook has been under a lot of scrutinies for fake news and propaganda lately. While the company has acknowledged its mistakes, the course it is taking to fix these problems should alarm people. We learned more on the social media giant’s censorship from a recent story in the Intercept, “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.

According to the story:

Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials. Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders.


Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement.” She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.

This is a no-win situation for Facebook. By trying to keep questionable content off the net, it opens the door for censoring its users. A slippery slope, to be sure. If we were to guess, Facebook will make a few more missteps before correcting things appropriately.

Patrick Roland, March 5, 2018

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