Nix on Those Ethics Classes: To the Cricket Ground

September 28, 2020

I read “Cambridge Analytica’s Ex-CEO Banned from Running Companies for 7 Years.” I immediately thought about the former top dog at Fast Search & Transfer. His dalliance with financials resulted in a two year jail sentence with one year suspended if the information in Global Investigations Review is on the money; that is, actual money, not the confections generated by the enterprise search system that could do more than Autonomy’s system. The CNet article quoted a legal eagle as saying:

Following an extensive investigation, our conclusions were clear that SCL Elections had repeatedly offered shady political services to potential clients over a number of years,” Mark Bruce, chief investigator for the UK government’s Insolvency Service, said in a release. “Alexander Nix’s actions did not meet the appropriate standard for a company director and his disqualification from managing limited companies for a significant amount of time is justified in the public interest.”

Which sentence was more appropriate? A year in jail for financial impropriety or generating outputs which may have altered outcomes of democratic elections?

Good question.

Now about those ethics classes at Eton? Nope, a student will learn how to promote understanding of relationships between humans, location and environment and incorporate technology to expand learning experiences. One plus of the Etonian’s education: Lots of practice with “trials.”

Jail time? Obviously inappropriate. Just common courtesy, of course. Of course, old chum.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2020

DarkTrace: Details about the Company Floated

September 24, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Goldman Snubs £2bn Darktrace Float Amid Lynch Extradition Battle.” The Sky News article presented some information which struck the DarkCyber research team as interesting. The story reported:

Legal issues surrounding the British technology star have led to Goldman Sachs deciding not to seek an IPO role…

The question is, “Why?” Goldman Sachs, like other high profile financial institutions, has been embroiled in interesting deals in the past. Wikipedia offers a list which warrants consideration if only to weed out the realities from the allegations.

SkyNews includes these data in its story:

  • The sale of Autonomy to Hewlett Packard allegedly influenced the decision
  • Invoke Capital (founded by Michael Lynch) was the first investor in the cyber-centric firm Darktrace
  • Darktrace employs more than 1200 people and has more than 40 offices
  • The company has “more than $200 million in revenue”
  • “Mr Lynch stepped down from the Darktrace board in 2018, Invoke remains the company’s largest shareholder.”
  • “KKR had increased its stake in Darktrace as part of a reorganization of the company’s shareholder structure.”
  • “Darktrace might quickly be valued at well over £2bn.”
  • Poppy Gustafsson, a former Autonomy professional, is the CEO
  • Darktrace has $1bn in “cumulative bookings.”
  • Customers include AIG, BT Group, Jimmy Choo, the Science Museum Group and William Hill.

According to The Register, Autonomy’s auditor Deloitte was fined about $20 million US for “misconduct.”

Stephen E Arnold, September 24, 2020

US Social Media Companies: More Financial Brutality Coming?

September 23, 2020

DarkCyber spotted “EU Could Shut Misbehaving Tech Firms Out of Single Market.” The write up concerns the European regulators’ Digital Services Act, 2020 edition. The article reports:

The bill would increase the responsibilities and liabilities of tech companies, particularly regarding content on social media platforms. Breton said that EU regulators are preparing a list of activities that tech companies would be required to eliminate. It may also establish a rating system which allow the public and shareholders to score companies on factors such as tax compliance and – for online platforms – how quickly they remove illegal content. Under these proposals, tech companies may be forced to break up or sell some of their European operations if their market dominance is judged to be a threat to the interests of consumers and competitors.

There are precedents. The Great Firewall of China and the exclusionary actions directed at US technology companies. The American attempts to shut down or co-opt TikTok and WeChat. The Indian government’s aggressive stance toward Chinese apps. Russian actions, including the preferential deal with Telegram, a messaging service.

Observations:

  1. American technology companies are the target of these legal machinations
  2. Fragmentation of online services seems to be a response to decades of flawed regulation
  3. Tax revenues may lead to deals, which may do little to address the impact of non-intermediated content flows.

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2020

Another Swiftian Moment? Who Is Working for Whom?

September 21, 2020

I spotted “It’s Ridiculous. Underfunded FTC and DOJ Can’t Keep Fighting the Tech Giants Like This.” The information in the write up may be one of those spontaneous search engine optimization ploys or the work of super-intelligent smart software. To my inexperienced eyes, the write up seems to be semi accurate.

The idea is that “US regulators don’t have enough money to properly check the tech giants.” I would suggest that the revolving door, free logo bedecked mouse pads, and nifty briefings with edible food are also among the reasons.

The write up asserts:

The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice’s antitrust division have a combined annual budget below what Facebook makes in three days. The FTC runs on less than $350 million per year, the DOJ’s antitrust division on less than $200 million. Facebook made $18 billion last quarter alone. The funding disparity between the tech giants and their regulators leads to an unbalanced fight, current and ex-staffers said: The agencies can’t investigate the tech giants to the extent they’d like.

The write up did not mention taxes, but is that significant? Of course not.

The write up also does not point out that the demographics of staff in some Federal agencies may suggest that the contest between enforcers and the enforced is a bit like the Barcelona soccer team taking on a group of under 12s in a match.

The write up may be getting close to the resource disparity. The larger question may be, “Who is working for whom?”

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2020

Facebook: Luck of the Irish

September 16, 2020

Facebook Takes Legal Action after Irish Regulator Threatens to Clamp Down on Transatlantic Data Transfer” illustrates that the company is consistent. The write up reports:

Facebook … launched legal action against Ireland’s data regulator, in an attempt to halt a preliminary order that could stop the company from transferring user data from the European Union to the U.S. The social media giant has applied to seek judicial review of the approach used by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission on the grounds it was premature for the IDPC to have reached a preliminary conclusion at this stage.

On the surface, it appears that Facebook wants to rely on the legal system, not the luck of the Irish, in its effort to sidestep certain constraints on its business. Is this action out of step with Facebook’s socially responsible policies? No. Facebook is acting in a consistent manner. Facebook’s tag line, according to one person on the DarkCyber research team, is “socially responsible.” Another team member understood that colleague to have used the word “reprehensible.”

Another perplexing issue which DarkCyber cannot resolve.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2020

Facebook a PR Firm? What about a Silicon Valley Cash Rich Intelligence Agency?

September 1, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Facebook, The PR Firm.” The main idea seems to be:

I [Can Duruk maybe?] saw on Twitter a leak from Facebook where the comms people were pleading to their coworkers to stop leaking to the press. The comms folks, in a weird form of irony, were so inundated with their moderation work that they had to ask people whose main task is to create more moderation work for the poorly paid and mentally traumatized people to please creating less work for them.

That statement combines the best of Escher and Kafka.

The write up notes:

I read Facebook less as a tech company, but instead a communications one. Not a telecom communications, but more like a PR / marketing consultancy. There’s nothing original about Facebook. It’s a company that hires people to build others’ ideas, and, more often than not, it does that better and faster than them too. And when it can’t do that, it just buys them outright. There is a lot of building, but the ideas are outsourced. But what Facebook is really good at is actually doing all this while fighting what seems to be a never-ending, at least since 2016 or so, PR battle while not giving an inch.

Is the entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg a reincarnation of Ivy Lee, a metempsychosis in the realm of online social media?

And the final line of the write up reminds the reader:

This, after all, is a company that once thought comparing itself to a chair was a good idea.

DarkCyber thinks the write up makes some helpful points. However, several observations emerged from our morning Zoom “meeting” among the team members who had the energy to click a mouse button:

  1. Facebook has internalized the mechanisms used by some intelligence agencies and specialized services firms; for example, the dalliance in and out of court with NSO Group
  2. Facebook can perform what can be called “beam forming.” The idea is to take digital bits, focus them on a topic or issue, and then aim the beam of content at individuals and groups. The beam works like a wood carver’s oblique knife. The “targets” are shaped as needed.
  3. The company can exert threats in order to apply pressure to entities with a perceived intention of doing Facebook hard; for example, the threats made to Australia if the social media giant has to pay for news.

To sum up, DarkCyber believes that Facebook has more in common with an intelligence operation than a PR firm. I mean public relations. Really? Does Facebook care about relating to the public? Money, clicks, users, tracking, and data for sure. But public relations?

Stephen E Arnold, September 1, 2020

Lexipol: Facing Scrutiny?

September 1, 2020

Should a private company be writing policies for police departments? Increasingly that is the case and, many say, is a major reason it is so difficult to hold police accountable for using excessive force. Mother Jones invites us to “Meet the Company that Writes the Policies that Protect Cops.” Founded in 2003, Lexipol’s focus is unabashedly on crafting policies that protect officers and departments against lawsuits. Much hinges on definitions of words one would think should be straightforward, like “necessary” and “imminent.” In fact, company co-founder (and former cop) Bruce Praet seems especially proud of the slippery language that gives police “flexibility.”

When pressed, Lexipol insists it bases its policies on federal and state standards, laws, court rulings, and “best practices.” However, reporter Madison Pauly writes:

“Some of the company’s policies … depart in significant ways from recommendations by mainstream policing organizations. The National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, a collaboration between 11 major law enforcement groups, requires cops to try de-escalation techniques before using force if possible. Lexipol discourages police departments from requiring them. Lexipol’s policy allows officers to shoot at moving vehicles in some circumstances, a practice that the Police Executive Research Forum recommends against because it may injure or kill civilians and officers. The ACLU has contested Lexipol’s rules for handling immigration violations, which in some states include a provision allowing cops to consider ‘a lack of English proficiency’ when deciding whether someone may have entered the country illegally. Despite these challenges, the company has marketed its policies as a way to decrease cities’ liability in police misconduct lawsuits. In its communications with potential clients, Lexipol has claimed that agencies that use its policies are sued less frequently and pay out smaller settlements, according to a Texas Law Review analysis of public records. The company’s critics argue that it accomplishes this with vague or permissive rules that meet bare-minimum legal requirements rather than holding officers to a higher standard.”

According to the company, Lexipol has vended its policies, training, customizable handbooks, or other services to more than 8 thousand public safety agencies, including several large cities. These include corrections, fire, and EMS agencies alongside police departments. In California, it is estimated that about 95 percent of law enforcement are using Lexipol policies. See the article for examples where, we’re told, these policies have stood in the way of justice. As with the crafting of state legislation, we suspect many citizens are unaware how much influence these public agencies have handed over to a third party.

Cynthia Murrell, September 1, 2020

Autonomy: One Chapter Closes but the Saga Continues

August 27, 2020

Just a quick pointer to Reuters, the trusted source (that’s what the Thomson Reuters outfit says, believe me) story “Ex-Autonomy CFO’s Conviction for Hewlett-Packard Fraud Is Upheld by U.S. Appeals Court”  about an Autonomy executive. The news report states that Autonomy’s CFO is in deeper legal hot water. Sushovan Hussain was  convicted in April 2018 on a number of charges, including wire and security fraud. DarkCyber still marvels that Hewlett Packard, the Board of Directors, auditors, and third party advisors applied “warp speed,” to use a popular phrase, to buy the search and content processing company for $11.1 billion. One fact is unchallengeable: This legal process is moving along at turtle speed. Is the HP Autonomy saga well suited for a Quibi video?

Stephen E Arnold, August 27, 2020

Alphabet Spells Out Actions for YouTubers to Take

August 20, 2020

Coercion is interesting because it can take many forms. An online publication called Digital Journal published “Google Rallies YouTubers Against Australian News Payment Plan.” Let’s assume the information in the write up is accurate. The pivot point for the article is:

Google has urged YouTubers around the world to complain to Australian authorities as it ratchets up its campaign against a plan to force digital giants to pay for news content. Alongside pop-ups warning “the way Aussies use Google is at risk”, which began appearing for Australian Google users on Monday, the tech titan also urged YouTube creators worldwide to complain to the nation’s consumer watchdog.

The idea, viewed from a company’s point of view, seems to be that users can voice their concern about an Australian government decision. The company believes that email grousing will alter a government decision. The assumption is that protest equals an increased likelihood of change. Is this coercion? Let’s assume that encouraging consumer push back against a government is.

The action, viewed from a government’s point of view, may be that email supporting a US company’s desire to index content and provide it to whomever, is harming the information sector in a country.

The point of friction is that Alphabet Google is a company which operates as if it were a country. The only major difference is that Alphabet Google does not have its own military force, and it operates in a fascinating dimension in which its actions are important, maybe vital, to some government agencies and, therefore, its corporate actions are endorsed or somehow made more important in other spheres of activity.

DarkCyber is interested in monitoring these issues:

  1. How will YouTube data consumers and enablers of Google ad revenue react to their corporate-directed coercive role?
  2. How will the Australian government react to and then accommodate such coercion if it becomes significant?
  3. How will other countries — for example, France, Germany, and the UK — learn from the YouTube coercion initiative?
  4. How will Alphabet Google mutate its coercive tactics to make them more effective?

Of course, the Google letter referenced in the Digital Journal may be a hoax or a bit of adolescent humor. Who pays attention to a super bright person’s high school antics? These can be explained away or deflected with “Gee, I am sorry.”

The real issue is a collision of corporatism and government. The coercion angle, if the write up is accurate, draws attention to a gap between what’s good for the company and what’s good for a country.

The issue may be the responsibility of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but the implications reach to other Australian government entities and to other countries as well. The US regulatory entities have allowed a handful of companies to dominate the digital environment. Coercion may the an upgrade to these monopolies’ toolkits.

But the whole matter may be high school humor, easily dismissed with “it’s a joke” and “we’re sorry. Really, really sorry.”

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2020

Apple and Russia

August 19, 2020

We have learned that Apple is being accused of unfair practices in yet another country from AppleInsider’s write-up, “Russian Watchdog Says Apple’s App Store Rules and Behaviors Are Anticompetitive.” According to Reuters, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia declares that the way Apple runs its online app store gives it unfair advantage. We note the agency’s leader once allegedly worked for the KGB; we suggest it is unwise to irritate such an individual. Writer Mike Peterson gives details of the allegations:

“The FAS’s ruling cites the need for users to download iOS apps from the official App Store, and claimed that Apple has ‘unlawfully reserved rights’ to block any third-party app from the marketplace. The watchdog also signaled that it would issue an order demanding that Apple resolve it alleged regulatory abuses. The FAS launched its investigation following a formal complaint by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. The company issued the complaint after Apple blocked its ‘Safe Kids’ parental control app from the App Store, citing child privacy and security concerns. At the time, Apple’s removal of those parental control apps prompted concerns that the company was quashing competition of its Screen Time feature. Apple responded, stating that the use of mobile device management (MDM) and other tools in the apps presented a security risk.”

Peterson reminds us Apple is also facing antitrust investigations in the US and Europe. The EU probe, we’re told, was launched in response to charges by Apple Music competitor Spotify.

Russia’s government options may include some strategists at Apple may under weight. Telegram, for example, found cooperation a more pragmatic way to deal with Russian authorities. Why? Perhaps it was first hand knowledge of certain bureaucratic features of the Russian government’s mechanisms?

Some companies want to function as if they were countries. Some countries find that approach untenable.

Cynthia Murrell, August 19, 2020

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