NSO Group and an Alert Former French Diplomat: Observation Is Often Helpful

August 2, 2021

I read “French Ex-Diplomat Saw Potential for Misuse While Working at NSO.” The allegedly accurate write up reports that Gerard Araud [once a French ambassador] took a position at NSO Group. The write up adds:

His one-year mission from September 2019, along with two other external consultants from the United States, was to look at how the company could improve its human rights record after a host of negative news stories. Earlier that year, the group’s technology had been linked publicly to spying or attempted spying on the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian security forces, which it denied. The group was acquired in 2019 by a London-based private equity group, Novalpina, which hired Araud to recommend ways to make the company’s safeguard procedures “more rigorous and a bit more systematic,” he said.

The write up explains how a prospect becomes an NSO Group customer:

Its [the Pegasus software and access credentials] export is regulated “like an arms sale,” said Araud, meaning NSO must seek approval from the Israeli government to sell it, and state clients then sign a lengthy commercial contract stipulating how the product will be used. They are meant to deploy Pegasus only to tackle organised crime or terrorism — the company markets itself this way — but Araud said “you could see all the potential for misuse, even though the company wasn’t always responsible.”

The argute veteran of the French ambassadorial team maybe, possibly, could have discerned the potential for misuse of the Pegasys system.

The write up includes this information, allegedly direct from the former diplomat, who obviously provides information diplomatically:

In a firm that practices “a form of extreme secrecy,” he says he nonetheless became convinced that NSO Group worked with Israel’s Mossad secret services, and possibly with the CIA. He said there were three Americans who sat on the group’s advisory board with links to the US intelligence agency, and the company has said that its technology cannot be used to target US-based numbers.  “There’s a question about the presence of Mossad and the CIA. I thought it was both of them, but I have no proof,” he said. “But I suspect they’re both behind it with what you call a ‘backdoor’.” A “backdoor” is a technical term meaning the security services would be able to monitor the deployment of Pegasus and possibly the intelligence gathered as a result.

Interesting. Several years ago, the BBC published “When Is a Diplomat Really Just a Spy?” In that 2018 write up, the Beeb stated:

So where do you draw the line between official diplomacy and the murky world of espionage? “Every embassy in the world has spies,” says Prof Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham. And because every country does it, he says there’s “an unwritten understanding” that governments are prepared to “turn a blind eye” to what goes on within embassies.

Would French diplomats have some exposure to ancillary duties at a French embassy? Potentially.

Stephen E Arnold, August 3, 2021

China: Making Technology into a Friend Magnet in Africa

July 27, 2021

I don’t know much about Africa. I remember studying about Belgium’s wonderful and humane approach, but China has found technology more agreeable than Léopold II’s tactics. “Chinese Tech, Ignored by the West, Is Taking over Africa’s Cyberspace” reports:

While China’s telecom giant Huawei has come under increasing attack in the US and the European Union, it is thriving in Africa…

The drive to lure people comes as Huawei faces mounting attacks from the West. But in Africa, the company has a solid base. Currently, Huawei is active in most African countries. According to an Atlantic Council study – “The Digital Infrastructure Imperative in African Markets,” – around 50 percent of Africa’s 3G networks and 70 percent of its 4G networks are built by Huawei.

What’s Huawei’s secret sauce? The article quotes an expert who asserts:

“Huawei has a big competitive advantage because it’s got access to state capital,” says Eric Olander, managing editor of The China Africa Project, a portal that monitors Chinese business ventures across the continent.

What’s that “state capital” enable? Check out this map. The white line is cable which surrounds the African continent. Sixteen major nodes are planned. The 5G system will connect hundreds of millions of people.


Maybe the Google Loon balloons will be given another shot at the Internet connectivity the online ad company deployed in Puerto Rico. Facebook had model airplane-type devices. And Elon Musk has nifty satellite things. But for now, Huawei is having its way with 5G, the Internet connectivity, and capturing a growing market for devices and services.

Stephen E Arnold, July 27, 2021

How about That 5G?

March 26, 2021

Here we have some premium marketing hoo hah from Digital Trends, “8 Exciting Use Cases that Show What 5G Can Really Do.” In our experience, most people find 4G,LTE, and ATT DSS-fake-5G to be faster than 5G. The write-up seems to presage a time when 5G Ultra Wideband networks have expanded much farther than they have. Writer Jacob Kienlen envisions:

“Like any upgrade to our mobile network infrastructure, the most exciting aspect is the speed and consistency it brings. That, combined with latency reductions, is enough to start predicting some of the opportunities 5G will provide in the coming years. Some of the most obvious 5G use cases are related to technologies that can only really be made better by an improved mobile network. These are things like smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and businesses. The difference between 4G and 5G in that regard is the sheer improvement to consistent high-speed internet on the go. That improvement will bring with it a slew of improvements to existing technologies, but also spark entirely new ones that couldn’t exist with 4G or 3G networks. Here are some of the most exciting 5G cases you can look forward to.”

Can we, really? Right now people are turning off the 5G service on their mobile phones because it is too slow and unreliable. Let us play along, though, and picture a world where 5G has engulfed us coast-to-coast. The eight use cases described here include better home internet; better communication, with both voice and video calls; more viable autonomous vehicles; improved video-streaming quality; advanced agriculture technologies; the rise of more smart cities; a refined Internet of Things; and advances in healthcare, from faster and easier remote diagnoses and operations to health-monitoring smart watches for all.

Keinlen does paint an exciting picture, and perhaps it will come to pass someday. For the foreseeable future, though, these visions remain illusory for most of us.

Cynthia Murrell, March 26, 2021

T-Mobile: Privacy Is a Tough Business

March 12, 2021

Just a bit of mobile phone experience this morning. T Mobile (the magenta or pink outfit) notified me I could opt out of its forthcoming “sell your data” initiative. I dutifully clicked on the link to something which appeared in an SMS as t-mo.com/privacy12. Surprise. The page rendered with a notice that it was a new domain. I fiddled around and was able to locate the page via the search box on T-mobile.com. I filled in the data, including a very long Google ad tracker number. I clicked the submit button and nothing happened. I spotted an email address which was “privacy@tmobile.com.” Guess what? The email bounced. I called 611, the number for customer service. I was told that T Mobile would call me back in 30 minutes. Guess what? No call within the time window.

Privacy is a tough business, and it is one which amuses the marketers and thumbtypers who work with developers to create dark patterns for paying customers. Nice work.

Nifty move. Well, the company is magenta or pink. It is dark, however. Very dark and quite sad.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2021, 435 pm US Eastern

Google Allegedly Sucking User Data: Some Factoids from the Taylor Legal Filing

November 16, 2020

I read the legal filing by Taylor et al v. Google. The case is related to Google’s use of personal data for undisclosed reasons without explicit user permission to consume the user’s bandwidth on a mobile network. You can download the 23 page legal document from this link, courtesy of The Register, a UK online information service. Here’s a rundown a few of the factoids  in the document which I found interesting:

  • Google’s suck hundreds of megabytes of data is characterized as a “dirty little secret.” Hundreds of megabytes of data does not seem to me to be “little.”
  • Google allegedly conducts “passive information transfers which are not initiated by any action of the user and are performed without their knowledge.” I think this means taking data surreptitiously.
  • Taking the data uses for fee network connections. I think this means that the user foots the bill for the data sucking.
  • Android has a 54.4 percent of the US smartphone market.
  • The volume of data “transferred” is about nine megabytes per 24 hours when an Android device is stationary and not in active use.

This graphic appears in the filing on page 11:


The big bar shows Google’s data sucking compared to Apple’s.

The document states:

Google has concealed its misappropriate of Plaintiffs’ cellular data.

I wonder if Google’s senior executives are aware of what the Android phones are allegedly doing. Google was not aware of a number of employee activities, most recently the leak of ideas for thwarting EU regulators.

Is this another example of entitlement management; that is, acting in a manner of a high school science club confident in its superiority over lesser mortals?

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2020

Android: Fragmentation? What Fragmentation

November 9, 2020

Interesting statement in “Older Android Phones Will Be Cut Off From a Large Chunk of the Web in 2021”:

Let’s Encrypt noted that roughly 34% of Android devices are running a version older than 7.1 based on data from Google’s Android development suite.

Android fragmentation? What fragmentation?

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2020

Washington Might Crack Down On Mobile Bidstream Data

November 4, 2020

Mobile devices siphon data from users and sell the data to third parties, mostly ad companies, to make a profit. The bidstream is mobile’s dirty secret that everyone knows about and the federal government might finally do something to protect consumers’ privacy says The Drum: “Mobile’s Dirty Little Data Secret Under Washington’s Microscope.”

“Bidstream” is the mobile industry jargon used for data mobile services collect from users then sell. The data is sold to advertisers who bid on ad space in real time exchange for targeted ads. Bidstream data could include demographics, personal hobbies and (even more alarmingly) real time coordinates for consumers’ current location.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) executive vice president Dave Grimaldi stated that his organization has recently communicated a hundred times more with the federal government about the bidstream than the past two months. There are politicians worried that the bidstream could not only violated privacy, but could lead to deceptive business tactics (and maybe violent actions). There are currently no industry standards or rules from the IAB or the Mobile Marketing Association against bidstreams.

In June 2020, Mobilewalla released demographic information about BLM protestors under the guise of data analysis, while politicians called in surveillance. They want to know if Mobilewalla’s analysis along with the midstream violate the FTC act:

“The FTC won’t say whether it is probing bidstream data gathering, but its chairman did respond to lawmakers. ‘In order to fully address the concerns mentioned in your letter,’ wrote FTC Chairman Joseph Simons in a letter to Wyden obtained by The Drum, ‘we need a new federal privacy law, enforceable by the FTC, that gives us authority to seek civil penalties for first-time violations and jurisdiction over non-profits and common carriers.’… In questions sent separately to Mobilewalla, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and other legislators asked the company to provide details of its “disturbing” use of bidstream data.‘Mobilewalla has and will respond to any request received from Congress or the FTC,’ a Mobilewalla spokesperson tells The Drum, declining to provide further detail.”

Those mobile phones are handy dandy gizmos, aren’t they?

Whitney Grace, November 4, 2020

The Purple Yahoo Verizon Mobile Device Innovation

November 2, 2020

I spotted a hard-hitting bit of “real” journalism in “Yahoo’s First Branded Phone Is Here. It’s Purple and Only $50.” One question, “Is the ring tone the Yaaaa-hoooooo yodel? The phone comes from the hard working folks at ZTE. This is a Chinese firm located in Shenzhen with clean, cheerful factories in several locations. The model has been around for a decade. The purple version available from the cheerful Verizon unit managed by Guru Gowrappan. Yep, “guru.” The write up points out that Guru Gowrappan allegedly said:

[You] may have the option to get free access to its Yahoo Finance Premium offering, while a Yahoo Sports fan would get free betting credits or promotions for the company’s sportsbook, assuming they are in a state where sports gambling is legalized.


Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2020

Contact Tracing Apps: A Road Map to Next Generation Methods

October 30, 2020

I read “Why Contact-Tracing Apps Haven’t Lived Up to Expectations.” The article explains that the idea of using a mobile phone and some software to figure out who has been exposed to Covid is not exactly a home run. The reasons range from people not trusting the app or the authorities pushing the app, crappy technology, and an implicit message that some humans don’t bother due to being human: Sloth, gluttony, etc.

The write up appears to overlook the lessons which have been learned from contact tracing applications.

  1. The tracers have to be baked into the devices
  2. The software has to be undetectable
  3. The operation has to be secure
  4. The monitoring has to be 24×7 unless the phone is destroyed or the power source cut off.

These lessons are not lost on some government officials.

What’s this mean? For some mobile phone operations, the insertion of tracers is chugging right along. Other countries may balk, but the trajectory of disease and other social activities indicated that these “beacon” and “transmit” functions are of considerable interest in certain circles.

Stephen E Arnold, October 30, 2020

After Decades of the Online Revolution: The Real Revolution Is Explained

October 9, 2020

Years ago I worked at a fancy, blue chip consulting firm. One of the keys to success in generating the verbiage needed to reassure clients was reading the Economist. The publication, positioned as a newspaper, sure looked like a magazine. I wondered about that marketing angle, and I was usually puzzled by the “insights” about a range of topics. Then an idea struck me: The magazine was a summarizer of data and verbiage for those in the “knowledge” business. I worked through the write ups, tried to recall the mellifluous turns of phrase, and stuff my “Data to Recycle” folder with clips from the publication.

I read “Faith in Government Declines When Mobile Internet Arrives: A New Study Finds That Incumbent Parties Lose Votes after Their Citizens Get Online.” [A paywall or an institutional subscription may be required to read about this obvious “insight.”] Readers of the esteemed publication will be launching Keynote or its equivalent and generating slide decks. These are often slide decks which will remain unfindable by an organization’s enterprise search system or in ineffectual online search systems. That may not be a bad thing.

The “new study” remains deliciously vague: No statistical niceties like who, when, how, etc. Just data and a killer insight:

A central (and disconcerting) implication is that governments that censor offline media could maintain public trust better if they restricted the internet too. But effective digital censorship requires technical expertise that many regimes lack.

The statements raise some interesting questions for experts to explain; for example, “Dictatorships may restore faith in governments.” That’s a topic for a Zoom meeting among one percenters.

Several observations seem to beg for dot pointing:

  1. The “online revolution” began about 50 years ago with a NASA program. What was the impact of those sluggy and buggy online systems like SDC’s? The answer is that information gatekeepers were eviscerated, slowly at first and then hasta la vista.
  2. Gatekeepers provided useful functions. One of these was filtering information and providing some aggregation functions. The recipient of information from the early-days online information systems was some speed up in information access but not enough to eliminate the need for old fashioned research and analysis. Real time is, by definition, not friendly to gatekeepers.
  3. With the development of commercial online infrastructure and commercial providers, the hunger or addiction to ever quicker online systems was evident. The “need for speed” seemed to be hard wired into those who worked in knowledge businesses. At least one online vendor reduces the past to a pattern and then looks at the “now” data to trigger conclusions. So much for time consuming deliberation of verifiable information.

The article cited above has discovered downstream consequences of behaviors (social and economic) which have been part of the online experience for many years.

The secondary consequences of online extend far beyond the mobile devices. TikTok exists for a reason, and that service may be one of the better examples of “knowledge work” today.

One more question: How can institutions, old fashioned knowledge, and prudent decision making survive in today’s datasphere? With Elon Musk’s implants, who will need a mobile phone?

Perhaps the next Economist write up will document that change, hopefully in a more timely manner.

Stephen E Arnold, October 9, 2020

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