Quick NSO Group Update

June 20, 2022

Two items for the estimable NSO Group caught my attention.

The first is a Reuters (the trust outfit!) item called “Spanish Court Calls CEO of Israel’s NSO to Testify in Spying Case.” The trusted write up reports that t6he “rogatory” commission will head to Israel and investigate. Nothing new with this. The CEO appears to be a person of interest.

The second is an Axios story with a pat-on-the-back headline: “Scoop: Israelis Push US to Remove NSO from Blacklist.” The core of this item is that looked at one way, routine discussions are underway. Looked at another way, lobbyists are beavering away. NSO Group has not hired one law firm to work on the blacklisting. Nope, NSO Group has two law firms loosing legal eagles.

NSO Group has lost some PR traction to the Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind Bob Hope-ism that its software is alive and as smart as a seven year old. I think crows are as smart as seven years old. Despite the best efforts of those who want to discredit the specialized software vendors, AGYD’s mastery of messaging is at the top of the heap.

Keep trying NSO Group.

Stephen E Arnold, June 20, 2022

EU: Tech Wolf Pack Must Track Down and Kill Deep Fakes

June 20, 2022

I read “EU Wants Big Tech to Address Deepfakes or Face Consequences.” The European Union has decided that the members of the Big Tech Wolf Pack can solve a semi-difficult problem. A deepfake is a content object that has been manipulated to deceive. I suppose there are better definitions, but let’s roll with this simple one.

Is a doctored image in a TikTok video a deepfake? What about a company which uses a fake persona to sell something? An example would be a digital Betty Crocker. What about a video produced with DaVinci Resolve, a free software that permits Hollywood style special effects? What about a grumpy neighbor posting a shaped story about the couple living in a trailer who throw trash into the parking area? What about a real news person writing about a new crypto venture fund and using some colorful adjectives to stimulate interest? What about videos of certain activities between a cartoon character and a faux human? (Is it a fake or is it a new genre?)

I don’t know about you, but the line between real and fake is a tough one to discern.

The write up states:

According to an EU document obtained by Reuters, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech giants will have to combat deepfakes and fake accounts or face heavy fines under a revised European Union code of practice.

Here’s the part I like after a couple of decades of just handing out fines that are the equivalent of lunches at staff meetings for a couple of weeks. (Love that gluten free pizza and those kale salads, right?)

The code says that signatories will create, enforce, and execute explicit policies against unacceptable manipulative behaviors and practices on their platforms, based on the most recent evidence on hostile actors’ conduct, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

And what are the consequences? How about up to six percent of global revenue? That will keep the lawyers and accountants busy?

Does this approach sound possible? Sure, but the effort may prove to be impossible as technology marches on? Is that voice answering system’s recording of Bugs Bunny a deep fake? What about a Zoom background that shows me paying attention when I am not? (That happens on most of my Zoomies.) Perhaps yours too?

Stephen E Arnold, June 20, 2022

Zuckbook and Addiction: Let the Legal Eagles Loose

June 10, 2022

I find the addiction to an online service or to a fungible device difficult to understand. The one year I taught in a high school, I did encounter students on drugs. For the most part, these individuals dozed, mumbled, and seemed pretty happy. The principal (remember, the principal is your pal) did not care as long as there was no trouble which would attract the local Live at Five TV crew.

I did not understand the need, desire, hunger, or whatever for controlled substances. I still don’t. Now I cannot fathom an addiction to online content or a computing device. Obviously I am not a good person to consult about getting hooked on anything other than “work” like writing blog posts and working on my new monograph for law enforcement and intelligence professionals. (A US government entity gets a preview in July! You don’t. Grab your mobile phone and zone out, okay?)

Meta Was Sued for Its Algorithm. Section 230 Might Not Be a Shield” makes it clear that I have zero comprehension of this chain of activity:

Mobile phone –>  Service providers –> Online content –> Algorithms = Digital heroin.

The write up tries to get through to my brain infused with a 500 ML Pellegrino and a granola bar:

Meta was slapped with eight different complaints, filed in as many states, alleging that its algorithms have contributed to mental health issues such as eating disorders, sleeplessness and suicidal thoughts or tendencies in younger users. The complaints allege that excessive time on Instagram and Facebook pose serious risks to mental health, with one plaintiff claiming that Meta “misrepresented the safety, utility, and non-addictive properties” of its platforms.

And the fix from my point of view? How about these tips? For parents, take the phone away. For 20 somethings, get a van and go off grid. For those older, grow up. But I am in the minority because this ecosystem of online is chugging along like an aggressive cancer in one’s pancreas. I learned:

Rather than going after the content itself, these complaints target the algorithm that serves it to users…

Okay, that will be fun to figure out and then explain to other lawyers, a judge, and maybe a jury. Most algorithms are combinations of mathematical procedures taught in every college and university math class in the world. Assembling them is a bit like building a model airplane. The cuteness is in the threshold settings, the desired feedback inputs, and that old razzle dazzle of looking at user behavior. Bingo. Math works like heroin.

The write up makes this point:

“Basically, it’s [winning one of the suits against the Zuckbook] like a lottery,” said Goldman. [big wheel legal eagle] “You only really need to win one in order to open up a very, very big door for future litigation.”

Since the 1970s, online has been a thing. Now it is society wide and suddenly we are setting up the largest flight of legal eagles in recorded history. “Big door”? Probably like the door for the old moon rockets.

Will the Zuckbook take the fall? Will parents take away mobile phones and limit Chromebook time? Will adults of different ages go back to typing stuff on a typewriter as one European intelligence entity has?

Probably not. Therefore, legal eagles aloft. Everyone benefits from the actions of legal eagles just not as much as the legal eagles. Will there be substantive change? Ho ho ho.

Stephen E Arnold, June 10, 2022

NSO Group: A Spanish Road Trip Planned

June 8, 2022

Spain’s judicial system stretches back centuries. The idea, as I understand it, was for Courts and Tribunals to administer justice in the name of the King of Spain. Now perhaps some of these alcaldes de crimen became frisky; support for the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, banishments, property seizures aimed at people of a certain religious persuasion, decisions about precious metals from the lands across the sea, etc., etc.

NSO Group now has an opportunity to interact with Spain’s judiciary up close and personal.

Spanish Judge to Visit Israel Seeking Testimony from NSO on Pegasus Spyware Use” reports:

The [Spanish] court said that José Luis Calama has decided to lead a judicial commission that will travel to Israel to “take testimony from the CEO of the company that commercializes the Pegasus program.”

The article added:

NSO says that it only sells its Pegasus spyware to governments for security purposes. Pegasus has been linked to the hacking of other political leaders and activists in other countries. NSO has denied playing any part of this apparent misuse of its evasive technology that has come to light thanks to the work of digital-rights groups inspecting individual phones.

I assume that the trappings of the chat will be free of the methodologies used in investigations centuries ago. Probably pencils and papers because iPhones… well, you know.

Stephen E Arnold, June 8, 2022

Google Experiences a Kangaroo Punch

June 6, 2022

When I was in Australia giving a talk, I did see red kangaroo. The critters did not seem to pack much of a punch, but there were quite a few of them on the road to Canberra. I knew that some in Australia use the kangaroo as a symbol in some sporting venues. I asked about the punch. The roo uses its forelegs to hold a humanoid or other creature. Then the hind legs slash away at the victim’s under belly. Those skilled in the art of kangaroo behavior point out that the animals don’t box. They disembowel. Who knew?

Google may have an opportunity to learn about roo behavior. “Google Told to Pay Australian Politician $515,000 for Defamation” reports:

Judge Steven Rares said the videos, which were posted by political commentator Jordan Shanks amounted to a “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive and defamatory campaign” against Barilaro. The videos questioned the former legislator’s integrity, including labelling him “corrupt” without evidence, and called him racist names that were “nothing less than hate speech”, the judge said. He found that Alphabet Inc’s Google, which owns content-sharing website YouTube, earned thousands of dollars by hosting the two videos but failed to apply its own policies to prevent hate speech, cyber bullying and harassment. The videos were viewed nearly 800,000 times between them since being posted in late 2020.

A half million US is more like a paper cut, if that.

The Vice report “Google Will Pay Massive Damages for Hosting YouTuber’s ‘Racist’ Anti-Italian ‘Abuse’” uses the word “massive” which is a bit overblown. That story includes this statement:

“Google cannot hide behind the use of its Californian head office or American understandings of the English language as being the same as in Australia,” Rares [an Australian Federal Court Justice] said. “It operates a very large business in Australia, has Australian staff and lawyers and could not suggest that it was somehow ignorant of how hurtful and bullying the ‘bruz’ video was in its use of the slurs and venomous hate speech that Mr Shanks directed avowedly, deliberately at Mr Barilaro, for criticising Mr Shanks’ earlier racist behaviour.

Interesting, particularly the reference to understanding, a notion popular among some artificial intelligence professionals at the Google .

One kangaroo scrape makes not difference. As I saw firsthand in Australia, there are lots of kangaroos. What if these use their hind quarters in a coordinated dust up with the Google. But Australia is a mere country. Google is the Alphabet with Chrome trim and a fascinating management method.

Stephen  E Arnold, June 6, 2022

Can Kyndryl Drill IBM and Strike Gold? But Who Drilled Whom?

June 6, 2022

I found it amusing that Big Blue found itself on the wrong side of what I call a deal poaching allegation. The details of the BMC and IBM services for AT&T is interesting. However, a knock on effect of that $1.6 billion dollar settlement has put the estimable IBM spin out Kyndryl in the spotlight. I thought the name “Kyndryl” was one of those pharma products tailored to old people who watched cable news talking heads. Was I wrong? Absolutely. Kyndryl is IBM’s managed services business. The idea for that was that big companies did not want to deal with full time equivalents who kept an organization’s servers chugging along. Let IBM do it was a good business until the sharpies at Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, among others, figured out how to package the cloud to chew into Big Blue’s revenues.

Gulp down a Wal-DRYL and check out “Kyndryl Shares Swoon on Fear It Faces Huge Liability in Lawsuit Against IBM.” The article explains:

Spun out of IBM (ticker: IBM) last year, Kyndryl (KD) is basically IBM’s old managed IT services business. It is a gigantic company with around $18 billion in sales and a workforce of about 90,000 people. But Kyndryl is shrinking at the top line, pays no dividend, and is having trouble finding a constituency among investors. The stock is down more than 50% since the spinoff was completed in November. And now the two companies find themselves on the opposite sides of a legal mess that poses considerable risks for Kyndryl.

What I find interesting is that the incident strikes me as one part of IBM is fighting another part of IBM. Where does the customer fit into this crashing of brilliantly managed entities? I know. Let’s ask Watson. No, let’s check out M-Dryl. Seems less financially risky.

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2022

Smart Software and Lawyers: Just Keep the Billing Up

June 3, 2022

In a webinar for the Innovation in Law Studies Alliance, a pair of academics at the intersection of law and technology shared their thoughts on the role of expert systems in the legal sector. Ivar Timmer is a professor of Legal Management & Technology at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam and Tomer Libal is a professor of Computer Science at the American University of Paris. Legal Insider summarizes their discussion in, “Guest Post: Expert Systems Are Here, Let’s Welcome them to the Legal World.” The article specifies the difference between expert systems, a type of AI that has been around since the 1960s, and machine learning: The former is based on the knowledge and experience of experts while the latter is based on data. Writers María Jesús González-Espejo and Ebru Metin then explain why expert systems would be good for the legal field:

“Because most legal professionals have more work than they can afford, they lack time. Much of this work is routine, with little added value. Another reason that makes them interesting is the phenomenon of hyper-regulation. It is impossible to assimilate so many rules. Neither the citizen nor the professional is capable of keeping up to date, understanding and applying a legal system that has become an unreachable jungle. Expert systems can do it, if we teach them to understand the rules, they can guide us, teach us to apply them and even make the most lawful decisions and they will do all this, in an explainable way, because we will have been the ones who told them how to do it. In addition, expert systems can help us improve the quality of standards by requiring representation according to computer-executable logic, which helps clarify and simplify natural language, as well as identify and remove unwanted ambiguities and inaccuracies. Another reason is that our sector is essentially based on legal knowledge which is in the head by a few people. Knowledge of the regulations, of the jurisprudence, of the opinion of the public administrations and of the doctrine.”

Other advantages include information consistency and immediate response times. Also, with expert systems, legal professionals can modeled legal knowledge without having to rely on computer scientists. The article does not mention a key point we observed—expert systems are cheaper than human lawyers while providing new opportunities for billing, too. The write-up goes on to examine which areas of the law might benefit most from expert systems and makes some predictions for the future, so curious readers can navigate there for those details.

Cynthia Murrell, June 3, 2022

Autonomy Business Details: Are These Relevant to Search- and Content Processing Type Outfits Today?

May 31, 2022

I read “Judge Details Lynch’s $700k Signoff via iPhone Text in Full Autonomy Judgement.” The main idea is that Autonomy — an early entrant in the smart software for search and content processing — engaged in some business practices which a British judge finds suggestive. How suggestive? I am not sure, but the idea of using resellers and transactions to amp up revenues is interesting.

Another search and content processing outfit called Fast Search & Transfer (which Microsoft acquired more than a decade ago) found itself subject to some scrutiny for financial fancy dancing. One of the firm’s founders was found guilty and may have spent some time in the custody of a government. Maybe the fellow was cross country skiing and shooting a rifle at snow bunnies.

The relevance of the cited story and the reference to skis and weapons reminds me that the financial reports of high-flying search and content processing companies have to be scrutinized. I mention this because some of the more interesting search and content processing centric companies are publicly traded. Palantir Technologies comes to mind because I have seen a couple of semi-optimistic write ups about the company.

If I were a more youthful 77 year old, I would muster the energy to:

  1. Investigate the US government and UK government contracts for term, sunset dates, and contracting officers (what’s the background of these individuals)
  2. Research the question, “What’s bundled into the basic commercial and the basic government deal?”
  3. Explore the question, “How is cost of sales reacting to the economic climate since Palantir went public?”
  4. Try to determine answers to these questions: “What’s the ratio of sales people to programmers? The ratio of full time equivalents to contractors? How has the ratio changed since the firm went public?”
  5. Interview some people at LE and intel conferences to get a sense of the chatter related to this question: “Is Palantir bundling Amazon cloud services or doe the licensee have a choice?” and “Has there been talk of Palantir providing a “system in a box” to licensees with this requirement?

Why think about these types of questions? Oh, I am just curious about search and content processing outfits.

Stephen E Arnold, May 31, 2022

Google Et Al: A Small Matter Perhaps?

May 24, 2022

In India, the Lok Sabha is a bit like the US Congress. Like its US equivalent, the group of distinguished individuals can be frisky, intellectually speaking, of course. “Standing Committee On Finance To Discuss Big Tech Firms’ Practices” reports:

…the parliamentary panel will be hearing views of hospitality, restaurants and travel agents associations on the subject ‘Anti-Competitive Practices by Big-tech companies…

By itself, this type of investigation and questioning is chugging along in the US, the EU, and India. In Russia, the country has seized the Google’s assets, and it is not clear what the future will hold for other US Big Tech Firms.

I noted this statement in the source article:

Representatives of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and others too were summoned by the panel.

I anticipate that the answers to the interlocutors’ questions will be along the line, “Thank you for the question. I will collect the information and provide it to your office.”

However, this sentence suggests that India may be considering adding some teeth to its approach to the alleged monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior of the Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter outfits:

The CCI Act was initiated in 2002 and last amended in 2007. A bill to amend the Act is also under consideration wherein provisions are likely to be introduced to deal with anti-competition practices of tech giants.

Worth watching? India? Is that a significant market? Yep.

Stephen E Arnold, May 24, 2022

Scraping By: A Winner Business Model

May 23, 2022

Will Microsoft-owned LinkedIn try, try, try again? The platform’s latest attempt to protect its users’ data from being ransacked has been thwarted, TechCrunch reveals in, “Web Scraping Is Legal, US Appeals Court Reaffirms.” The case reached the Supreme Court last year, but SCOTUS sent it back down to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals for a re-review. That court reaffirmed its original finding: scraping publicly accessible data is not a violation of the decades-old Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). It is a decision to celebrate or to lament, depending on one’s perspective. A threat to the privacy of those who use social media and other online services, the practice is integral to many who preserve, analyze, and report information. Writer Zack Whittaker explains:

“The Ninth Circuit’s decision is a major win for archivists, academics, researchers and journalists who use tools to mass collect, or scrape, information that is publicly accessible on the internet. Without a ruling in place, long-running projects to archive websites no longer online and using publicly accessible data for academic and research studies have been left in legal limbo. But there have been egregious cases of web scraping that have sparked privacy and security concerns. Facial recognition startup Clearview AI claims to have scraped billions of social media profile photos, prompting several tech giants to file lawsuits against the startup. Several companies, including Facebook, Instagram, Parler, Venmo and Clubhouse have all had users’ data scraped over the years. The case before the Ninth Circuit was originally brought by LinkedIn against Hiq Labs, a company that uses public data to analyze employee attrition. LinkedIn said Hiq’s mass web scraping of LinkedIn user profiles was against its terms of service, amounted to hacking and was therefore a violation of the CFAA.”

The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Twice. In the latest decision, the court pointed to last year’s Supreme Court ruling which narrowed the scope of the CFAA to those who “gain unauthorized access to a computer system,” as opposed to those who simply exceed their authorization. A LinkedIn spokesperson expressed disappointment, stating the platform will “continue to fight” for its users’ rights over their data. Stay tuned.

Cynthia Murrell, May 23, 2022

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