Intelligence Industry Becoming Privatized and Concentrated

March 10, 2017

Monopolies aren’t just for telecoms and zipper manufacturers. The Nation reveals a much scarier example in its article, “5 Corporations Now Dominate Our Privatized Intelligence Industry.” Reporter Tim Shorrock outlines the latest merger that brings us to this point, one between Pentagon &  NSA contractor Leidos Holdings and a division of Lockheed Martin called Information Systems and Global Solutions. Shorrock writes:

The sheer size of the new entity makes Leidos one of the most powerful companies in the intelligence-contracting industry, which is worth about $50 billion today. According to a comprehensive study I’ve just completed on public and private employment in intelligence, Leidos is now the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.

Yes, that’s 80 percent. For the first time since spy agencies began outsourcing their core analytic and operational work in the late 1990s, the bulk of the contracted work goes to a handful of companies: Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA, SAIC, and CACI International. This concentration of ‘pure plays’—a Wall Street term for companies that makes one product for a single market—marks a fundamental shift in an industry that was once a highly diverse mix of large military contractors, small and medium technology companies, and tiny ‘Beltway Bandits’ surrounding Washington, D.C.

I should mention that our beloved leader, Stephen E Arnold, used to work as a gopher for one of these five companies, Booz Allen Hamilton. Shorrock details the reasons such concentrated power is a problem in the intelligence industry, and shares the profile he has made on each company. He also elaborates on the methods he used to analyze the shadowy workforce they employ. (You’ll be unsurprised to learn it can be difficult to gather data on intelligence workers.) See the article for those details, and for Shorrock’s discussion of negligence by the media and by Congress on this matter. We can agree that most folks don’t seem to be aware of this trend, or of its potential repercussions.

Cynthia Murrell, March 10, 2016

 

 

ScyllaDB Version 3.1 Available

March 8, 2017

According to Scylla, their latest release is currently the fastest NoSQL database. We learn about the update from SiliconAngle’s article, “ScyllaDB Revamps NoSQL Database in 1.3 Release.” To support their claim, the company points to a performance benchmark test executed by the Yahoo Cloud Serving Benchmark project. That group compared ScyllaDB to the open source Cassandra database, and found Scylla to be 4.6 times faster than a standard Cassandra cluster.

Writer Mike Wheatley elaborates on the product:

ScyllaDB’s biggest differentiator is that it’s compatible with the Apache Cassandra database APIs. As such, the creators claims that ScyllaDB can be used as a drop-in replacement for Cassandra itself, offering users the benefit of improved performance and scale that comes from the integration with a light key/value store.

The company says the new release is geared towards development teams that have struggled with Big Data projects, and claims a number of performance advantages over more traditional development approach, including:

*10X throughput of baseline Cassandra – more than 1,000,000 CQL operations per second per node

*Sub 1msec 99% latency

*10X per-node storage capacity over Cassandra

*Self-tuning database: zero configuration needed to max out hardware

*Unparalleled high availability, native multi-datacenter awareness

*Drop-in replacement for Cassandra – no additional scripts or code required”

Wheatley cites Scylla’s CTO when he points to better integration with graph databases and improved support for Thrift, Date Tiered Compaction Strategy, Large Partitions, Docker, and CQL tracing. I notice the company is hiring as of this writing. Don’t let the Tel Aviv location of Scylla’s headquarters stop from applying you if you don’t happen to live nearby—they note that their developers can work from anywhere in the world.

Cynthia Murrell, March 8, 2016

Parlez Vous Qwant, Nest-Ce Pas?

March 2, 2017

One of Google’s biggest rivals is Yandex, at least in Russia.  Yandex is a Russian owned and operated search engine and is more popular in Russia than the Google, depending on the statistics.  It goes to say that a search engine built and designed by native speakers does have a significant advantage over foreign competition, and it looks like France wants a chance to beat Google.  Search Engine Journal reports that, “Qwant, A French Search Engine, Thinks It Can Take On Google-Here’s Why.”

Qwant was only founded in 2013 and it has grown to serve twenty-one million monthly users in thirty countries.  The French search engine has seen a 70% growth each year and it will see more with its recent integration with Firefox and a soon-to-be launched mobile app.  Qwant is very similar to DuckDuckGo in that it does not collect user data.  It also boasts mote search categories than news, images, and video and these include, music, social media, cars, health, music, and others.  Qwant had an interesting philosophy:

The company also has a unique philosophy that artificial intelligence and digital assistants can be educated without having to collect data on users. That’s a completely different philosophy than what is shared by Google, which collects every bit of information it can about users to fuel things like Google Home and Google Allo.

Qwant still wants to make a profit with pay-per-click and future partnerships with eBay and TripAdvisor, but they will do without compromising a user’s privacy.  Qwant has a unique approach to search and building AI assistants, but it has a long way to go before it reaches Google heights.

They need to engage more users not only on laptops and computers but also mobile devices.  They also need to form more partnerships with other browsers.

Bon chance, Qwant!  But could you share how you plan to make AI assistants without user data?

Whitney Grace, March 2, 2017

 

Mobile App Usage on the Rise from 34% of Consumer Time in 2013 to 50% in 2016

February 24, 2017

Bad news, Google. The article titled Smartphone Apps Now Account for Half the Time Americans Spend Online on TechCrunch reveals that mobile applications are still on the rise. Throw in tablet apps and the total almost hits 60%. Google is already working to maintain relevancy with its In Apps feature for Androids, which searches inside apps themselves. The article explains,

This shift towards apps is exactly why Google has been working to integrate the “web of apps” into its search engine, and to make surfacing the information hidden in apps something its Google Search app is capable of handling.  Our app usage has grown not only because of the ubiquity of smartphones, but also other factors – like faster speeds provided by 4G LTE networks, and smartphones with larger screens that make sitting at a desktop less of a necessity.

What apps are taking up the most of our time? Just the ones you would expect, such as Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, and Google Maps. But Pokemon Go is the little app that could, edging out Snapchat and Pinterest in the ranking of the top 15 mobile apps. According to a report from Senor Tower, Pokemon Go has gone beyond 180 million daily downloads. The growth of consumer time spent on apps is expected to keep growing, but comScore reassuringly states that desktops will also remain a key part of consumer’s lives for many years to come.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 24, 2017

 

Anonymous Transparency Project Boldly Attacks Google for Secrecy Then Dives Back Under Rug

February 23, 2017

The article on Mercury News titled Secretive Foe Attacks Google Over Government Influence reports on the Transparency Project, an ironically super-secret group devoted to exposing Google’s insane level of influence. Of course, most of us are already perfectly aware of how much power Google holds over our politicians, our privacy, and our daily functions. Across Chrome, Google search, YouTube etc., not a day goes by that we don’t engage with the Silicon Valley Monster. The group claims,

Over the past decade, Google has transformed itself from the dominant internet search engine into a global business empire that touches on almost every facet of people’s lives — often without their knowledge or consent,” the group’s first report said. Another report, based on White House guest logs, cites 427 visits by employees of Google and “associated entities” to the White House since January 2009, with 21 “small, intimate” meetings between senior Google executives and Obama.

While such information may be disturbing, it is hardly revelatory.  So just who is behind the Transparency Project? The article provides a list of companies that Google has pissed off and stomped over on its path to glory. The only company that has stepped up to claim some funding is Oracle. But following the money in this case winds a strange twisted path that actually leads the author back to Google— or at least former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. This begs the question: is there anything Google isn’t influencing?

Chelsea Kerwin, February 23, 2017

Fight Fake News with Science

February 1, 2017

With all the recent chatter around “fake news,” one researcher has decided to approach the problem scientifically. An article at Fortune reveals “What a Map of the Fake-News Ecosystem Says About the Problem.” Writer Mathew Ingram introduces us to data-journalism expert and professor Jonathan Albright, of Elon University, who has mapped the fake-news ecosystem. Facebook and Google are just unwitting distributors of faux facts; Albright wanted to examine the network of sites putting this stuff out there in the first place. See the article for a description of his methodology; Ingram summarizes the results:

More than anything, the impression one gets from looking at Albright’s network map is that there are some extremely powerful ‘nodes’ or hubs, that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news. And it also shows an entire universe of sites that many people have probably never heard of. Two of the largest hubs Albright found were a site called Conservapedia—a kind of Wikipedia for the right wing—and another called Rense, both of which got huge amounts of incoming traffic. Other prominent destinations were sites like Breitbart News, DailyCaller and YouTube (the latter possibly as an attempt to monetize their traffic).

Albright said he specifically stayed away from trying to determine what or who is behind the rise of fake news. … He just wanted to try and get a handle on the scope of the problem, as well as a sense of how the various fake-news distribution or creation sites are inter-connected. Albright also wanted to do so with publicly-available data and open-source tools so others could build on it.

Albright also pointed out the folly of speculating on sources of fake news; such guesswork only “adds to the existing noise,” he noted. (Let’s hear it for common sense!) Ingram points out that, armed with Albright’s research, Google, Facebook, and other outlets may be better able to combat the problem.

Cynthia Murrell, February 1, 2017

Advocacy Groups Back Google over Right to Be Forgotten Conflict

January 31, 2017

Does a European’s  “right to be forgotten” extend around the globe? (And if not, is one really “forgotten”?) Can one nation decide what the rest of the world is allowed to see about its citizens? Thorny questions are at the heart of the issue MediaPost examines in, “Google Draws Support in Showdown Over ‘Right to Be Forgotten’.”

Privacy-protection rights, established by European judges, demand Google remove search-result links that could embarrass a European citizen at the subject’s request (barring any public interest in the subject, of course). French regulators want Google to extend this censorship on its citizens’ behalf around the world, rather than restrict access just within that country’s borders. No way, says Google, and it has some noteworthy support—the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations agree that what France is attempting sets a dangerous precedent.  Writer Wendy Davis elaborates:

Google argues that it can comply with the ruling by preventing links from appearing in the results pages of search engines aimed at specific countries, like Google.fr, for French residents. But the French authorities say Google must delete the links from all of its search engines, including Google.com in the U.S. Earlier this year, France’s CNIL [Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés ]rejected Google’s position and fined the company $112,000. Google is now appealing that ruling, and the Center for Democracy & Technology and others are backing Google’s position.

The CDT argues in a blog post that authorities in one country shouldn’t be able to decide whether particular search results are available in other countries—especially given that authorities in some parts of the world often object to material that’s perfectly legal in many nations. For instance, Pakistan authorities recently asked Google (unsuccessfully) to take down videos that satirized politicians, while Thai authorities unsuccessfully asked Google to remove YouTube clips that allegedly insulted the royal family.

Google itself has argued that no one country should be able to censor the Web internationally. ‘In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place,’ global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote on the company’s blog last year.

Indeed. As someone whose (most) foolish years occurred before the Web was a thing, I sympathize with folks who want to scrub the Internet of their embarrassing moments. However, trying to restrict what citizens of other countries can access simply goes too far.

Cynthia Murrell, January 31, 2017

The Internet Is Once Again Anonymous

January 19, 2017

Let us reminiscence for a moment (and if you like you can visit the Internet archive) about the Internet’s early days, circa late 1990s.  It was a magic time, because there were chatrooms, instant messaging, and forums.  The Internet has not changed these forms of communication much, although chatrooms are pretty dead, but one great thing about the early days is that the Internet was mostly anonymous.  With the increase in tracking software, IP awareness, and social media, Internet anonymity is reserved for the few who are vigilant and never post anything online.    Sometimes, however, you want to interact online without repercussions and TechCrunch shares that “Secret Founder Returns To Anonymous Publishing With Launch Of IO.”

David Byttow, Secret co-founder, started the anonymous publishing app IO that is similar to Postcard Confessions.  IO’s purpose is to:

IO is a pseudo-resurrection of Secret that Byttow told us in November came into being partly because “the downsides of current social media products MUST be addressed,” an imperative he felt was especially urgent following the results of the last U.S. election. IO’s stated mission is to achieve “authentic publishing,” by which Byttow means that he’s hoping users having an option to publishing either anonymously, using a pseudonym or as their actual selves will allow for easier sharing of true thoughts and feelings.

IO really does not do much.  You can type something up, hit publish, but it is only shared with other people if you attach social media links.  You can remain anonymous and IO does include writing assistance tools.  I really do not get why IO is useful, but it does allow a person to create a shareable link without joining a forum, owning a Web site, etc.  Reddit seems more practical, though.

Whitney Grace, January 19, 2016

 

Royal Mail, Delivering Narcotics Efficiently

January 17, 2017

Unsuspecting Royal Mail postmen are delivering narcotics and drugs ordered over Dark Web to punters and buyers with much efficiency. Taking cognizance of the fact, The Home Office is planning an investment of GBP 1.9 billion over next five years to fight this new face of crime.

The Sun in an article titled Royal Mail Postmen Unknowingly Deliver Drugs Parcels Bought From the Dark Web says:

Royal Mail postmen are unknowingly delivering drug parcels bought from the dark web, it has been revealed. Millions of pounds of drugs are bought online every day via the dark web and shipped to punters anonymously.

The postmen, however, cannot be blamed as they are ill-equipped to find out what’s hidden inside a sealed parcel. Though drug sniffing dogs exist on paper for the Royal Mail, many postmen say they never saw one in their service life. Technology is yet to catch-up with dogs that can sniff out the drugs.

As the postmen are being put at risk delivering these packages, the Home Office in a statement said:

We have committed to spending £1.9bn on cybersecurity over the next five years, including boosting the capabilities of the National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit, increasing their ability to investigate the most serious cybercrime.

Law enforcement agencies, including the ones in the US will have to invest in detecting and preventing such crimes. So far the success ratio has been barely encouraging. Till then, unsuspecting people will be used as pawns by cybercriminals, royally!

Vishal Ingole, January 17, 2017

Exploring Dark Web Motivations

January 13, 2017

The Dark Web continues to be under the microscope. Sophos’ blog, Naked Security, published an article, The Dark Web: Just How Dark Is It? questioning the supposed “dark” motivations of its actors. This piece also attempts to bust myths about the complete anonymity of Tor. There is an entry guard, which knows who the user is, and an exit node, which knows the user’s history and neither of these are easy to avoid. Despite pointing out holes in the much-believed argument full anonymity always exists on Tor, the author makes an effort to showcase “real-world” scenarios for why their average readers may benefit from using Tor: 

If you think a web site is legitimate, but you’re not completely sure and would like to “try before you buy,” why not take an incognito look first, shielding your name, your IP number, even your country? If you’re investigating a website that you think has ripped off your intellectual property, why advertise who you are? If you want to know more about unexceptionable topics that it would nevertheless be best to keep private, such as medical issues, lifestyle choices or a new job, why shouldn’t you keep your identity to yourself? Similarly, if you want to offer online services to help people with those very issues, you’d like them to feel confident that you’ll do your best to uphold their privacy and anonymity.

We’re not convinced — but perhaps that is because the article put its foot in its mouth. First, they tell us Tor does not provide full anonymity and then the author attempts to advocate readers use Tor for anonymity. Which is it? More investigation under a different lens may be needed.

Kenny Toth, January 13, 2017

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