Bannon Threatens Antitrust on Google and Facebook

August 15, 2017

During a time when the left and right seem further apart than ever before an odd, unexpected leak from within the white house has emerged. According to The Atlantic,

Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Donald Trump, believes Facebook and Google should be regulated as public utilities, according to an anonymously sourced report in The Intercept. This means they would get treated less like a book publisher and more like a telephone company. The government would shorten their leash, treating them as privately owned firms that provide an important public service.

Previously, only the far left has voiced such opinions making this questionable. Are the motives altruistic or monetary in nature? If such a move actually were to happen the way business is done at Google and Facebook would drastically change.

The article goes on to point out why and how Bannon’s musings on tech giants will never happen under the current administration, but regardless of one’s political ways, the fact that antitrust and online giants are being discussed together might signal the end of an era.

Catherine Lamsfuss, August 15, 2017

Big Data Can Reveal Darkest Secrets

August 8, 2017

Surveys for long have been used by social and commercial organizations for collecting data. However, with easy access to Big Data, it seems people while responding to surveys, lie more than thought about earlier.

In an article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz published by The Guardian and titled Everybody Lies: How Google Search Reveals Our Darkest Secrets, the author says:

The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world, not so researchers could learn about people, but it turns out the trails we leave as we seek knowledge on the internet are tremendously revealing.

As per the author, impersonal and anonymity of Internet and ease of access is one of the primary reasons why Internet users reveal their darkest secrets to Google (in form of queries).

Big Data which is a form of data scourged from various sources can be a reliable source of information. For instance, surveys say that around 10% of American men are gay. Big Data, however, reveals that only 2-3% of men are actually gay. To know more about interesting insights on Big Data, courtesy Google, read the article here.

Vishal Ingole, August 8, 2017

Study: Social Media and Young People

July 19, 2017

Some of us elders have been saying it for years, but now research seems to confirm it—social media can be bad for mental health.  The Next Web reports, “Study: Snapchat and Instagram Are the Worst for Young People.” The study is from the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), and the “young people” sampled are 1,479 Brits aged 14-24. An explanatory three-minute video from the RSPH accompanies the article. Writer Rachel Kaser reports:

The researchers surveyed 1,479 British youths ages 14-24, asking them how they felt the different social media networks effected their mental health. They took in several factors such as body image, sleep deprivation, bullying, and self-identity. The results suggest the two worst social media networks for kids are Instagram and Snapchat, as they had terrible scores for body image, bullying, and anxiety. Twitter and Facebook weren’t much better, though. YouTube was the only one that apparently inspired more positive feelings than negative ones. It could be because Snapchat and Instagram are image-based apps, meaning it’s not easy for users to avoid visual comparisons. Both apps ranked high on ‘Fear of Missing Out,’ and the researchers suggested this was likely to foster anxiety in fellow users.

I recommend the video for interested readers. It shows some respondents’ answers to certain questions, and clearly summarizes the pros and cons of each platform examined. It helpfully concludes with a list of concrete suggestions: Implement pop-up notifications that tell users when they’ve been online for a certain amount of time; require watermarks on photos that have been digitally altered; educate folks on the healthy use of social media; and incorporate analysis tools to identify users at risk for poor mental health and “discreetly” steer them toward help. It does seem such measures could help; will social-media companies cooperate?

Cynthia Murrell, July 19, 2017

Google Abandons Email Ads; Stops Reading User Emails

July 11, 2017

Gmail, the largest email provider, has stopped the email ads program after enterprise customers raised concerns over privacy and enterprise data.

As reported by Bloomberg in an article titled Google Will Stop Reading Your Emails for Gmail Ads, the author of the article says:

Google is stopping one of the most controversial advertising formats: ads inside Gmail that scan users’ email contents. The decision didn’t come from Google’s ad team, but from its cloud unit, which is angling to sign up more corporate customers.

Launched on in April 2004, Gmail initially was an invitation only email service. As the user base increased, the then parent company Google decided to sell ad space within the mailbox to advertisers based on email contents.

Gmail now will abandon this practice as many corporate clients have enrolled for the paid version of the email named G Suites. The decision came from Diane Greene, who heads the Cloud division of Alphabet, Inc. Alphabet’s dominance over search engine business continues. The next bastion might be Cloud services, as indicated by this move. Right, Google?

Vishal Ingole, July  11, 2017

Deleting Yourself from the Internet Too Good to Be True

July 4, 2017

Most people find themselves saddled with online accounts going back decades and would gladly delete them if they could. Some people even wish they could delete all their accounts and cease to exist online. A new service, Deseat, promises just that. According to The Next Web,

Every account it finds gets paired with an easy delete link pointing to the unsubscribe page for that service. Within in a few clicks you’re freed from it, and depending on how long you need to work through the entire list, you can be unwanted-account-free within the hour.

Theoretically, one could completely erase all trace of themselves from the all-knowing cyber web in the sky. But can it really be this easy?

Yes, eliminating outdated and unused accounts is a much-needed step in cleaning up one’s cyber identity, but we must question the validity of total elimination of one’s cyber identify in just a few clicks. Despite the website’s claim to “wipe your entire existence off the internet in a few clicks” ridding the internet of one’s cyber footprints is probably not that easy.

Catherine Lamsfuss, July 4, 2017

Facebook May Be Exploiting Emotions of Young Audiences

June 26, 2017

Open Rights Group, a privacy advocacy group is demanding details of a study Facebook conducted on teens and sold its results to marketing companies. This might be a blatant invasion of privacy and attempt to capitalize on emotional distress of teens.

In a press release sent out by the Open Rights Group and titled Rights Groups Demand More Transparency over Facebook’s ‘Insights’ into Young Users, the spokesperson says:

It is incumbent upon Facebook as a cultural leader to protect, not exploit, the privacy of young people, especially when their vulnerable emotions are involved.

This is not the first time technology companies have come under heavy criticism from privacy rights groups. Facebook through its social media platform collects information and metrics from users, analyzes it and sells the results to marketing companies. However, Facebook never explicitly tells the user that they are being watched. Open Rights Group is demanding that this information is made public. Though there is no hope, will Facebook concede?

Vishal Ingole, June 26, 2017

Privacy Enabled on Digital Assistants

June 8, 2017

One thing that Amazon, Google, and other digital assistant manufacturers glaze over are how enabling vocal commands on smart speakers potentially violates a user’s privacy.  These include both the Google Home and the Amazon Echo.  Keeping vocal commands continuously on allows bad actors to hack into the smart speaker, listen, record, and spy on users in the privacy of their own homes.  If the vocal commands are disabled on smart speakers, it negates their purpose.  The Verge reports that one smart technology venture is making an individual’s privacy the top priority: “Essential Home Is An Amazon Echo Competitor Puts Privacy First.”

Andy Rubin’s recently released the Essential Home, essentially a digital assistant that responds to vocal, touch, or “sight” commands.  It is supposed to be an entirely new product in the digital assistant ring, but it borrows most of its ideas from Google and Amazon’s innovations.  Essential Home just promises to do them better.

Translation: Huh?

What Essential Home is exactly, isn’t clear. Essential has some nice renders showing the concept in action. But we’re not seeing any photos of a working device and nothing in the way of specifications, prices, or delivery dates. We know it’ll act as the interface to your smart home gear but we don’t know which ecosystems will be supported. We know it runs Ambient OS, though details on that are scant. We know it’ll try to alert you of contextually relevant information during the day, but it’s unclear how.

It is compatible with Nest, SmartThings, and HomeKit and it is also supposed to be friendly with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.  The biggest selling feature might be this:

Importantly, we do know that most of the processing will happen locally on the device, not in the cloud, keeping the bulk of your data within the home. This is exactly what you’d expect from a company that’s not in the business of selling ads, or everything else on the planet.

Essentially, keeping user data locally might be a bigger market player in the future than we think.  The cloud might appeal to more people, however, because it is a popular buzzword.  What is curious is how Essential Home will respond to commands other than vocal.  They might not be relying on a similar diamond in the rough concept that propelled Bitext to the front of the computational linguistics and machine learning market.

Whitney Grace, June 8, 2017

UK Big Brother Invades More Privacy

April 18, 2017

The United Kingdom has been compared to George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia before, especially in the last two decades with their increasing amount of surveillance technology.  Once more UK citizens face privacy invasion reports the Guardian in “UK Public Faces Mass Invasion Of Privacy As Big Data And Surveillance Merge.”  The UK’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter expressed his worry that government regulators were unable to keep up with technological advances.

Big data combined with video surveillance, facial recognition technology, and the profuse use of more cameras is making it harder to protect individuals’ privacy.  People are being recorded 24/7 and often without their knowledge.  Another worry is that police are not being vigilant with private information.  One example is that license plate information has not been deleted after the two-year limit.

Porter wants changes to be made in policies and wants people to be aware of the dangers:

Porter’s new strategy, published on Tuesday, points out that an overwhelming majority of people currently support the use of CCTV in public places. But he questions whether this support can continue because of the way surveillance is changing.

 

‘I’m worried about overt surveillance becoming much more invasive because it is linked to everything else,’ Porter said. ‘You might have a video photograph of somebody shopping in Tesco. Now it is possible to link that person to their pre-movements, their mobile phone records, any sensor detectors within their house or locality. As smart cities move forward, these are challenges are so much greater for people like myself. And members of the public need to decide whether they are still happy with this.’

Porter admitted that advanced surveillance technology had allowed law enforcement to arrest terrorists and track down missing people, but it still can lead to worse privacy invasions.  Porter hopes is new three-year strategy will inform authorities about how technology will impact privacy.

The good thing about surveillance technology is how it can track down bad guys, but it can be harmful to innocent citizens.  The BBC should run some PSAs about video surveillance and privacy to keep their citizens informed.  I suggest they do not make them as scary as this one about electricity.

Whitney Grace, April 18, 2017

Whose Message Is It Anyway?

April 11, 2017

Instant messaging service provider WhatsApp is in a quandary. While privacy of its users is of utmost importance to them, where do they draw the line if it’s a question of national security?

In an editorial published in The Telegraph titled WhatsApp Accused of Giving Terrorists ‘a Secret Place to Hide’ as It Refuses to Hand over London Attacker’s Messages, the writer says:“The Government was considering legislation to force online firms to take down extremist material, but said it was time for the companies to “recognise that they have a responsibility” to get their own house in order.

Apps like WhatsApp offer end-to-end encryption for messages sent using its network. This makes it impossible (?) for anyone to intercept and read them, even technicians at WhatsApp. On numerous occasions, WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has come under fire for protecting its user privacy. In this particular incident, the London attacker Ajao used WhatsApp to send message to someone. While Soctland Yard wants access to the messages sent by the terrorist, WhatsApp says its hands are tied.

The editorial also says that social media networks are no more tech companies, rather they are turning into publishing companies thus the onus is on them to ensure the radical materials are also removed from their networks. Who ultimately will win the battle remains to be seen, but right now, WhatsApp seems to have the edge.

Vishal Ingole, April 11, 2017

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

 

 

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