Big Data and Net Freedom in China Make a Complicated Relationship

February 21, 2018

One of China’s hottest new app uses a big data engine, unlike anything most of us can imagine, however, that horsepower is getting the company in trouble. We learned more in a recent Slashdot piece, “Toutiao, One of China’s Most Popular News Apps, is Discovering the Risks Involved in Giving People Exactly What They Want Online.”

It actually pulls from a New York Times article and says:

Now the company is discovering the risks involved, under China’s censorship regime, in giving the people exactly what they want. The makers of the popular news app Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves this week to allay rising concerns from the authorities.

Last week, the Beijing bureau of China’s top internet regulator accused Toutiao of “spreading pornographic and vulgar information” and “causing a negative impact on public opinion online,” and ordered that updates to several popular sections of the app be halted for 24 hours. In response, the app’s parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, took down or temporarily suspended the accounts of more than 1,100 bloggers that it said had been publishing “low-quality content” on the app. It also replaced Toutiao’s “Society” section with a new section called “New Era,” which is heavy on state media coverage of government decisions.

Toutiao is the vanguard of a growing movement in China. For years, citizens knew they were being tracked by the government, but now are beginning to demand privacy. We certainly hope they can get there but are mighty skeptical. Good luck!

Patrick Roland, February 21, 2018

Facebook Experiment Harming Democracy

January 16, 2018

Facebook seems to be the last place on the Web to negatively affect democratic governments, but according to The Guardian it will in, “‘Downright Orwellian’: Journalists Decry Facebook Experiment’s Impact On Democracy.”  Facebook is being compared to Big Brother in a news feed experiment that removed professional media stories from six countries.  Let the article break it down for you:

The experiment, which began 19 October and is still ongoing, involves limiting the core element of Facebook’s social network to only personal posts and paid adverts.

So-called public posts, such as those from media organisation Facebook pages, are being moved to a separate “explore” feed timeline. As a result, media organisations in the six countries containing 1% of the world’s population – Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia – have had one of their most important publishing platforms removed overnight.

In other weeks, “Eek!”  These countries have very volatile governments and any threat to their news outlets is very bad if free speech is going to live.  Also the news outlets in these countries do not have the budgets to pay for Facebook’s post boosting fees.  Facebook was used as a free service to spread the news, but it fell more than 50% in many of the countries where this experiment was tested.

Even if Facebook were to stop the experiment some of the media outlets would not recover.  It is curious why Facebook did not test the news feed experiment in another country.  Oh wait, we know why.  It did not want to deal with the backlash from western countries and the countless people who whine on the Internet.  In the smaller countries, there is less culpability, but more home front damage. Nice job Facebook!

Whitney Grace, January 16, 2018

Blurring the Line Between Employees and AI

January 4, 2018

Using artificial intelligence to monitor employees is a complicated business. While some employers aim to improve productivity and making work easier, others may have other intents. That’s the thesis of the recent Harvard Business Review story, “The Legal Risks of Monitoring Employees Online.”

According to the story:

Companies are increasingly adopting sophisticated technologies that can help prevent the intentional or inadvertent export of corporate IP and other sensitive and proprietary data.


Enter data loss prevention, or “DLP” solutions, that help companies detect anomalous patterns or behavior through keystroke logging, network traffic monitoring, natural language processing, and other methods, all while enforcing relevant workplace policies. And while there is a legitimate business case for deploying this technology, DLP tools may implicate a panoply of federal and state privacy laws, ranging from laws around employee monitoring, computer crime, wiretapping, and potentially data breach statutes. Given all of this, companies must consider the legal risks associated with DLP tools before they are implemented and plan accordingly.

While it’s undeniable some companies will use technology monitor employees, this same machine learning and AI can help better employees. Like this story about how AI is forcing human intelligence to evolve and strengthen itself, not get worse. This is a story we’re watching closely because these two camps will likely only create a deeper divide.

Patrick Roland, January 4, 2018

Law Enforcement Do Not Like Smartphones

December 26, 2017

Smartphones and privacy concerns are always hot topics after mass shootings and terroristic acts.  The killers and terrorists always use their smartphones to communicate with allies, buy supplies, and even publicize their actions.  Thanks to these criminals, law enforcement officials want tech companies to build backdoors into phones so they can always can the information.  The remainder of the public does not like this.  One apple spoils the entire batch.  KPTV explains why smartphones are a problem in “Why Smartphones Are Giving Police Fits.”

After the recent mass shooting in Texas, police were unable to hack into the killer’s phone because of all the privacy software in place.  Law enforcement do not like this because they are unable to retrieve data from suspects’ phones.  Software developers insist that the encryption software is necessary for digital privacy, but police do not like that.  It holds up their investigations.

…it could take specialists weeks to unlock the phone and access material that may reveal the killer’s motive and other information.


The FBI’s first option is likely to pressure the device-maker to help access the phone, but if that won’t work they could try breaking into it. Sometimes “brute force” attacks aimed at methodically guessing a user’s passcode can open a device, though that won’t work with all phones.

Arora said the difficulty of breaking into the phone would depend on numerous factors, including the strength of the gunman’s passcode and the make and model of the phone. Police may have more options if it’s an Android phone, since security practices can vary across different manufacturers.

The tech companies, though, are out to protect the average person, especially after the Edward Snowden incident.  The worry is that if all smartphones have a backdoor, then it will be used for more harm than good.  It establishes a dangerous precedent.

Law enforcement, however, needs to do their jobs.  This is similar to how the Internet is viewed.  It is a revolutionary tool, but a few bad apples using it for sex trafficking, selling illegal goods, and child porn ruins it for the rest of us.

Whitney Grace, December 26, 2017

Google Search: More Digital Gutenberg Action

December 24, 2017

Years ago I wrote “Google: The Digital Gutenberg.” The point of the monograph was to call attention to the sheer volume of content which Google generates. Few people outside of my circle of clients who paid for the analysis took much notice.

I spotted this article in my stream of online content. “Google Search Updates Take a Personalized Turn” explains that a Google search for oneself – what some folks call an egosearch – returns a list of results with a bubblegum card about the person. (A bubblegum card is intel jargon for a short snapshot of a person of interest.)

The publishing angle – hence the connection to Gutenberg – is that the write up reports the person who does an egosearch can update the information about oneself.

A number of interesting angles sparkle from this gem of converting search into someone more “personal.” What’s interesting is that the functionality reaches back to the illustration of a bubblegum card about Michael Jackson which appears in US20070198481. Here’s an annotated patent document snippet from one of my for-fee Google lectures which I was giving in the 2006 to 2009 time period:


Some information professionals will recognize this as an automated bubble-gum card complete with aliases, personal details, last known location, etc. If you have money to spend, there are a number of observations my research team formulated  about this “personalization” capability.

I liked this phrase in the Scalzi write up: “pretty deep into the Google ecosystem.” Nope, there is much more within the Google content parsing and fusion system. Lots, lots more for “Automatic Object Reference Identification and Linking in a Browseable Fact Repository.”

Keep in mind that this is just one output from the digital Gutenberg which sells ads, delivers free to you and me online search, and tries to solve death and other interesting genetic issues.

Stephen E Arnold, December 24, 2017

Online Privacy Just Got a Lot Less Private

December 15, 2017

Forget for a moment political hacks from other countries and think about yourself. We are far more vulnerable online than you might think. A scary new report was discovered in a University of Washington News story, “For $1,000 Anyone Can Purchase Online Ads to Track Your Location and App Use.”

According to the story:

The researchers discovered that an individual ad purchaser can, under certain circumstances, see when a person visits a predetermined sensitive location — a suspected rendezvous spot for an affair, the office of a company that a venture capitalist might be interested in or a hospital where someone might be receiving treatment — within 10 minutes of that person’s arrival. They were also able to track a person’s movements across the city during a morning commute by serving location-based ads to the target’s phone.


Importantly, the target does not have to click on or engage with the ad — the purchaser can see where ads are being served and use that information to track the target through space. In the team’s experiments, they were able to pinpoint a person’s location within about 8 meters.

The scariest part of this story is that, while there are many techniques for hiding your online browsing and consumption, there is not much you can do from being spied on by software like this. However, the ebb and flow of the internet tell us that as soon as this becomes a public concern some programmer with dollar signs in their eyes will invent a solution. We just hope it’s not too late by then.

Patrick Roland, December 15, 2017

Nothing New as UK Continues to Spy on Citizens

November 27, 2017

People in the United States appear to always be up in arms about their civil liberties.  While it can be annoying, this is a good thing because it shows that citizens are trying to keep their government in check. The United States pales in comparison to the United Kingdom when it comes to defying civil liberties and spying on citizens.  TechCrunch shares the article, “UK Spies Using Social Media Data For Das Surveillance.”

Why does it come as a surprise that governments are using social media to collect information on their citizens? Many social media users do not have filters, including the US President Trump, and post everything online.  Governments take advantage of this, so it only makes sense when Privacy International says they have evidence that UK spy agencies use social media to gather information on suspects.

What does come as interesting is that the evidence shows that UK agencies shared their information databases with foreign governments and law enforcement?  On the other hand, given that the UK has been a target for terrorist attacks, this makes sense. Privacy International is challenging UK’s intelligence use of the of the personal data as an investigation tool.  This is the biggest concern and rightly so:

A key concern of the committee at the time was that rules governing use of the datasets had not been defined in legislation (although the UK government has since passed a new investigatory powers framework that enshrines various state surveillance bulk powers in law).  But at the time of the report, privacy issues and other safeguards pertaining to BPDs had not been considered in public or parliament.

There are not any legal ramifications if the data is misused.  This is a big deal and there need to be penalties if the data is used in harmful ways.  It begs the question, however, what about financial and retail industries that collect data on customers to sell more products?  Is that akin to this?  Also, people need to put less of their lives online and they would have less to worry about.

Whitney Grace, November 27, 2017

Facebook Unapologetic About Spy Tool

September 6, 2017

At what point does a company or industry hold too much power? That is exactly what a recent TNW article examined. According to the site, Facebook has unleashed an early spying tool to identify and then eradicate competition. Many examples of how Facebook has done this in the past, stealing such features as Stories or upcoming Bonfire, from start-ups, are listed as proof of the growing power the social media giant possesses.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and others all wield the same sort of power over smaller competitors. While the power shift isn’t revolutionary at its surface — offline businesses held the same sort of power for decades, and some still do — it’s the speed at which online companies grow, becoming ever-more-powerful, that makes it worth taking notice of.

With just a handful of companies (Google, Facebook, Apple primarily) holding so much revenue power in the global economy, it is important for us not to just gloss over these practices. What the future will hold for new companies with bold, new ideas is daunting, at the very least.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 6, 2017

Is China the New Los Angeles Trend Machine?

August 28, 2017

I was last in China in 2007 and then in Hong Kong in 2010. My information is, therefore, out of date. That’s no big whoop for me, since I am ready to tally 74 years in our thrilling world.

I read “In China You Now Have to Provide Your Real Identity If You Want to Comment Online.” The main point of the write up is that the free and open Internet is going the way of the dodo. The goal of “real name registration” is to make it easy for certain official to track down individuals without the expensive, time consuming, and sometimes messy “traditional” identity investigations.

I noted this passage:

So what exactly constitutes forbidden topics on the Chinese internet? An unnamed CAC official told a journalist the following when asked about the new rules (first translated by The Diplomat):

  1. opposing the principles of the constitution of China
  2. endangering national security, revealing state secrets, subverting state power, and undermining national reunification
  3. damaging national honor and interests
  4. inciting national hatred, ethnic discrimination, and undermining national unity
  5. undermining the state’s policies on religion or promoting cults and feudal superstitions
  6. spreading rumors or disrupting social order
  7. spreading obscenity, pornography, violence, or terror, or abetting a crime
  8. insulting or slandering others and infringing upon the lawful rights and interests of others
  9. violating any other laws and regulations

My reaction to the write up is that censorship, China-style, may be the latest trend to emerge from the Middle Kingdom. Once Los Angeles on the left coast generated the “in” fads which would then roll toward Harrod’s Creek.

My thought is that censorship may be the new black or whatever the hot color is for fall fashion. I am not particularly surprised because similar governmental actions seem to have emerged from the deliberative bodies in Russia, Turkey, and other countries. One African nation state just turned off the Internet, an Iran-style touch.

One idea struck me. Is now the time for individuals to generate an alternative or optional Internet identity. Creating a “legend” or an alternate Internet identity is important. Just ask the person who ran the illegal Dark Web site AlphaBay. The mistake that individual made was to use an identity which was not “clean.

The procedure for setting up a legend or clean Internet identity is not easy. There are a number of steps. Human mistakes can render a clean identity traceable; that is, dirty. If you are able to verify that you are working for a recognized law enforcement or intelligence entity, you can obtain a legend from the Beyond Search Overflight team. This is our WITSEC Light bundle. More comprehensive legends are also available to qualified LE and intel professionals.

To explore this package which contains an alias, matching email address, and other necessary elements like a Walmart pay as you go phone, just write darkwebnotebook at yandex dot com. Remember. We verify that you have a legitimate LE or intel role prior to providing the legend, a workable biography, and summary of what one has to do to build out the legend.

Those who do not qualify will have to look elsewhere for a way to deal with censorship constraints in countries other than the US. If the China censorship trend moves outward from that country, more than one online identity may be needed for some operations.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2017

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

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