Another Dust Up: A Consequence of Swisherism?

July 3, 2020

I associate Silicon Valley journalism with the dynamic duo of Swisher and Mossberg. The Walt has retired from the field of battle—almost. Kara Swisher sallies forth. The analytic approach taken by the “I” journalist has had a significant impact on others who want to reveal the gears, levers, and machine oil keeping the Silicon Valley factories running the way their owners and bankers intended.

Hence, Swisherism which I define as:

A critical look at Silicon Valley as a metaphor for the foibles of individuals who perceive themselves as smarter than anyone else, including those not in the room.

A good example of Swisherism’s consequences appears in “Silicon Valley Elite Discuss Journalists Having Too Much Power in Private App.” The write up is like a techno anime fueled with Jolt Cola.

For example:

During a conversation held Wednesday night on the invite-only Clubhouse app—an audio social network popular with venture capitalists and celebrities—entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan, several Andreessen Horowitz venture capitalists, and, for some reason, television personality Roland Martin spent at least an hour talking about how journalists have too much power to “cancel” people and wondering what they, the titans of Silicon Valley, could do about it.

This is inside baseball given a dramatic twist. Big names (for some I suppose). A country-club app for insiders. An us versus them plot line worthy of Homer. The specter of retribution.

Yikes.

Even more interesting is that the article references a “recording” of what may have been perceived as a private conversation.

There’s nothing to inspire confidence like leaked recordings, right?

There is a sprinkling of foul language. A journalist becomes the target of interest. There is loaded language like “has been harassed and impersonated” to make sure that the reader understands that badness of the situation.

Swisherisms? Sort of, but the spirit is there. The under dog needs some support. Pitch in. Let’s make attitudes “better.” Rah rah.

I particularly like the use of Twitter as a weapon of myth destruction:

Lorenz’s tweet was immediately tweeted about by several Silicon Valley venture capitalists, most notably Srinivasan, who eventually made a seven-tweet thread in which he suggested Lorenz, and journalists like her, are “sociopaths.” That same day, a self-described Taylor Lorenz “parody” Twitter account started retweeting Srinivasan and other tech investors and executives critical of her work. The account’s bio also links to a website, also self-described as parody, which is dedicated to harassing Lorenz. (Twitter told Motherboard it deleted another account for impersonating Lorenz.)

“Lorenz” is the journalist who became the windmill toward which the Silicon Valley elite turned their digital lances.

Net net: Darned exciting. New type of “real” journalism. That’s the Swisherism in bright regalia. Snarkiness, insults, crude talk, and the other oddments of Silicon Valley excitement. No one like constructive criticism it seems. Politics, invective, overt and latent hostility, and a “you should do better” leitmotif. Sturm und drang to follow? Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, July 3, 2020

Google on the Hot Spot: Ad Pancakes One Way and That Is Our Way

July 1, 2020

Google is so darned lovable. How could anyone interpret the company’s actions as overbearing. Take for instance the article “Google Stymies Media Companies from Chipping Away at Its Data Dominance.

The write up reports as “real” news and information:

Publishers had expected to use data privacy measures going into effect Aug. 15 to bar Google from storing insights about readers, sapping the data advantage that has enabled it to dominate a market filled with advertisers hungry for information to target potential customers. But Google said it will cut off publishers from a lucrative flow of ads if they follow through with curbing its data collection. Negotiations continue, but Google holds greater leverage because it dominates in both advertising tools and access to advertisers within the $100 billion annual global banner ads market.

There must be a misunderstanding.

Google is a partner. The write up points out:

Media companies must share revenue with Google to access the unparalleled number of advertiser clients it attracts with its data. Globally, publishers’ share of Google ad revenue has fallen in half to 16% over the last decade, according to a paper released this month by Yale University antitrust fellow Dina Srinivasan, who also consults for News Corp.

The tension would not exist if publishers accepted the fact that there were not Googley. Wishing it so will not make alter the reality of online traffic and clicks.

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2020

Policeware: Fascinating Real Journalists Again

June 27, 2020

Imagine writing about policeware — software and specialized services tailored to the needs of enforcement authorities — this way.

You learn about a quinoa farmer in rural Virginia. You look into the farmer’s activities and find that the farmer sells produce to locals heading toward North Carolina. You add flavor to your story the way a cook in Lima converts quinoa into a gourmet treat for travel weary tourists. The farmer is an interesting person. The farmer is struggling to survive. The farmer labels the quinoa as “world’s best” and “super healthy.” The farmer becomes famous because he tells you, “I sell more quinoa despite the local regulations and the Food Lion supermarket.” The problem is that the story’s author is unaware of Archer Daniels Midlands, an outfit with an interest in quinoa.

The story is a human interest write up particularized to a single quinoa farmer in a state known for a mall, traffic jams, and government contractors. Micro story gives the impression that Virginia is a great place for quinoa. Accurate? A reflection of the business environment? A clear reflection of local ordinances?

Nah.

I thought about the difference between a quinoa farmer’s story and a general lack of awareness about Archer Daniel Midlands when I read “Firm That Tracked Protesters Targeted Evangelicals During 2016 Election.” The outfit providing data may have more in common with the hypothetical quinoa story that meets the eye. Coverage of the policeware or intelware market sector invites micro examples used to support large scale generalizations about the use of data from mobile phones or open source information like public posts on a social media site.

Furthermore, small companies like the one described in Vice Motherboard article exist in every business sector. Focusing on a single firm — whether a quinoa farmer or a commercial data provider — may not provide a representative description of the market.

News flash: Data are available to companies, government agencies, and not for profit organizations from hundreds of companies. Some of these are tiny like Mobilewalla. Others are beefy; for example, Oracle BlueKai. Still others occupy a middle ground like Dataminr. Others are loosely affiliated with other countries’ government entities; possibly Innity.

The fixation on policeware appears to be a desire on the part of “real” journalists to tell mobile phone users that the essential device is gathering data about the user.

News flash: Mobile devices which seek cell towers and WiFi connections emit data as part of their normal functioning. Individuals who use mobile devices to look at ads on ManyVids, surf the Dark Web from a mobile device, and use the gizmos to buy contraband and pay with Bitcoin are skywriting. Big messages are available to those with access to different sets of data.

Some of the data flows into the stellar giants of the online world; for instance, Facebook and Google. Other data gathers in the telcos. Quite useful data floods from online mobile game enthusiasts. Granny in the retirement home happily provides companies like Amazon with a flow of information about what’s hot from her quite particular point of view.

My thought is that chasing quinoa farmer stories is a new and exciting angle for some “real” journalists. But is there a different story to be researched, understood, and communicated.

“Real” journalists might begin by asking and answering with facts, not anecdotes, these questions:

What organizations are the equivalent of the agribusiness giants just in the commercial database sector? How are these data gathered, verified, and made available? What people, companies, and organizations license these data? Why does a commercial database business exist? When did data morph into mechanism for dealing with certain types of events? How many government agencies integrate these types of data into their “feet on the street” activities? What’s the upside to these data and their use? What are the downsides to these data and their use?

The stories about the quinoa farmer are okay. Moving beyond the anecdote to the foundation of commercial data licensing is more meaningful and more interesting.

The problem may be that moving beyond the quinoa approach takes work, time, and understanding. Hey, “real” journalists have to log into Slack and then jump on a Zoom call. This “go beyond quinoa” is just too much like “real work.”

That’s a problem I assert for individuals uninterested in what happened when trans-Atlantic telegraph messages began to flow. Why not look into that type of history?

Stephen E Arnold, June 27, 2020

Policeware: Making Headlines

June 26, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Machines with Brains.” The article includes a category or “pre title” with the phrase “From Our Obsession.” The “our” is ambiguous. Is it the “our” of the Silicon Valley real news team members or is it the “our” of the zip zip technology craving social milieu?

The point of the write up is that policeware using pattern recognition and other assorted technologies are not ready for prime time. The article identifies several companies as providing solutions that create problems, not ones that solve them. These entities are:

  • Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft, deeply suspect companies but ones that had the common sense to drop out of the facial recognition marathon. “Yes, quitters can be winners” in the “From Our Obsession” point of view.
  • DataWorks, “one of the biggest resellers of facial recognition technology to US Police departments.” The company allegedly has “contracts with police in Detroit, Chicago, New York City, Santa Barbara, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.” DarkCyber admires alphabetization and mixing states and municipalities. Without context, how large are the contracts? What are the terms of the deal? Are these proofs of concept or full-blown integrated solutions humming 24×7 or some other type of installation.
  • Cognitech
  • NEC
  • Rank One Computing

The policeware market is one which most “real” journalists struggle to understand. Yesterday, in a conversation with a “real” journalist employed by the one and only Rupert Murdoch organization, I chortled during the “interview/conversation” as the young “real journalist” struggled to understand why law enforcement and intelligence professionals try out new technologies.

My comments about the companies providing policeware did not compute for the sincere and apparently fascinated news hunter. The idea that vendors provide news technology, make modifications as technical problems arise, and alter systems as users – yes, real enforcement officials – struggle to apply technology to the challenges enforcement presents.

Several observations:

First, the policeware and intelware markets, companies, and technologies are unknown territories for most technology professionals and terra incognita for a large percentage of “real” journalists. This means the individuals do not know of what they news gather. Out of context is the principal method employed.

Second, the solutions developed for enforcement and intelligence officials are a surprise to the uninformed. No one likes surprises; for example, the idea that a cherished group of Facebook friends may harbor a child molester or a contraband dealer. How does one mitigate surprise? Easy? Sensationalism, finger pointing, and generalizations. Facial recognition sucks. Easy. Does the Amazon-powered Ripper technology suck? What’s that? Ignorance is bliss for some.

Third, exactly what bureaucratic solutions exist to deal with technology? (Oxymoron alert: Bureaucracies are subject to Parkinson’s Law and Augustine’s Laws.) Some “real” journalists enthusiastically embrace mobile devices, online hook up services pretending to be video dating services, and the Twitter lifestyle. Maybe the newly minted experts in policeware have some ideas other than “don’t use technology”? Wait. That won’t work because fairy land, in case one has been oblivious to the social construct, seems to be emulating the world of Road Warrior.

Net net: Information in context and perspective are useful when writing about a technology sector with which one is not familiar. Just a thought because the morphing of “Machines with Brains” into “humans with brains” is an interesting idea to contemplate.

Perhaps an “obsession” with perspective, context, knowledge, and less sensationalistic short cuts would be helpful?

Policeware is becoming a beat. Good. Let’s strive for context, not shouting “Fire” in a socially distanced movie theater.

Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2020

About That Degree in Real Journalism?

June 26, 2020

Now that humans and algorithms share the job of curating online news, how do the two compare? Curious, Northwestern University’s Jack Bandy and Nicholas Diakopoulos examined one news service and did the math. Mac O’Clock shares Bandy’s summary, “What We Learned About Editors vs. Algorithms from 4,000 Stories in Apple News.”

In the case of Apple News, which boasts 125 million monthly users, human editors pick the “top stories” while AI chooses the “trending stories.” Bandy created a program to track the articles curated by each for two months. The researchers came to three conclusions. First, human editors chose pieces more evenly across news sources. Second, humans chose a wider range of sources. Interestingly, the narrower group of sources favored by the algorithms tended toward topics like celebrities and entertainment. This observation pointed the pair to their final conclusion—that human editors chose fewer “soft news” stories and more articles on serious topics. See the illustrated write-up for more on each of these points.

Bandy follows up:

“Our results highlight the trade-offs between human curation and algorithmic curation. While our study only looked at one platform, it shows that human editors were ‘much more subtly following the news cycle and what’s important,’ as Lauren Kern (editor in chief at Apple News) put it. For many readers and publishers, this is good news. The data shows that editors choose stories about important topics from a diverse set of sources, and choose those sources quite evenly. This is less true of the algorithmic Trending Stories, where readers will see more ‘soft news,’ and just a few major publishers tend to make the cut.”

It is a good idea to frequent a site at which humans still choose the top stories, as one example illustrates. Bandy uses the Wayback Machine to see the Google News headlines from the end of February, and was grateful he had not relied on that AI-centric page for his news at the time. He writes:

“All of the stories mention two things: coronavirus and Donald Trump. If you read them, you may glimpse some information about the impending pandemic — a ‘severity warning’ from the CDC, for example. The headlines probably grab your attention, but they do not provide meaningful information. Apple’s editors had a different approach that day, featuring an article with the headline ‘Coronavirus’s spread in U.S. is “inevitable,” CDC warns.’ It was a formal, descriptive piece from the Washington Post that quoted several officials at the Center for Disease Control. … I remember one quote from the article that changed my expectations for the coming months: ‘Disruptions to everyday life may be severe, but people might want to start thinking about that now’.”

Perhaps one day algorithms will be able to learn that sort of discernment, but now is not that time. Who, or what, is curating your news? Cynthia Murrell, June 26, 2020

Professional Publishers: Is Institutional Racism a Thing?

June 24, 2020

DarkCyber found “AI Researchers Say Scientific Publishers Help Perpetuate Racist Algorithms” somewhat unusual. Blending decades old algorithms with professional publishing strikes me as a combo that will not knock peanut butter and jelly off its popular pairing perch. (Yes, alliteration. Next up, anthropomorphish behavior; that is, projecting human qualities to math.)

The main point is that a paper called “A Deep Neural Network Model to Predict Criminality Using Image Processing” has been left in the stop bath. The write up reports:

Citing the work of leading Black AI scholars, the letter debunks the scientific basis of the paper and asserts that crime-prediction technologies are racist. It also lists three demands: 1) for Springer Nature to rescind its offer to publish the study; 2) for it to issue a statement condemning the use of statistical techniques such as machine learning to predict criminality and acknowledging its role in incentivizing such research; and 3) for all scientific publishers to commit to not publishing similar papers in the future. The letter, which was sent to Springer Nature on Monday, was originally written by five researchers at MIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, McGill University, and the AI Now Institute. In a matter of days, it gained more than 600 signatures and counting across the AI ethics and academic communities, including from leading figures like Meredith Whittaker, cofounder of the AI Now Institute, and Ethan Zuckerman, former director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab.

Just to sharpen the pencil point. Humans select algorithms and data sets. Humans determine the order of calculation, specify recursions, and cook up thresholds. The algorithms themselves are not, by definition, racist.

Nevertheless, professional publishers now have to figure out a way to explain what’s what. The exercise will probably steal time from the firm’s efforts to get authors to pay for inclusions and corrections. Also, wheedling experts to perform “free” editorial reviews for the good of the community may lose some momentum as well.

Didn’t that bronze in that statue know it was formulating a statement about a certain historical event?

Bronze and professional publishers should know better.

Stephen E Arnold, June 24, 2020

Free Dissertation? Act Fast or You May Have to Pay Up and a Lot

June 20, 2020

DarkCyber spotted “Discovering Dennis Ritchie’s Lost Dissertation.” The main point of the write up is that a wizard failed to hand over a copy of his dissertation to the institution library. As a result, no PhD and no scanning, indexing, and selling of the good student’s work by University Microfilms. I have no clue what this outfit is called today, but in the 1960s, the outfit zoomed through Kodak film and helped animate environmental controls on photoprocessing chemicals. Silver and all that, of course.

The main point of the write up for me is the link to the aforementioned dissertation. Free and online as June 20, 2020, at Ritchie_dissertation.pdf. Miss this chance and you may have to pony up some hard cash for a professional publishing/database company’s honest work of making money by converting students’ fear and perspiration into an online charge.

Oh, what did the student cook up? The C language.

Stephen E Arnold, June 20, 2020

Google and Pirate Sites

June 16, 2020

DarkCyber is preparing for the National Cyber Crime Conference lectures: Two live and one on pre-recorded video. We noted in our feed this article: “Popular Pirate Sites Slowly ‘Disappear’ From Google’s Top Search Results.” The write up states:

Over the past few months, it has become harder and harder to find the homepages of some popular pirate sites. Instead, Google points people to Wikipedia pages or entirely different – sometimes scammy – sites that use the same name. We’ll address a few examples here, contrasting our findings with Bing and DuckDuckGo.

Interesting.

Some DarkCyber readers may want to note that pointers to stolen software are findable in Google’s YouTube service. Here’s a results page for illegal and cracks of Photoshop CC6:

image

Why are these results appearing? There are other examples of content protected by copyright and other regulations. Try queries for other popular software.

The videos are either tutorials with links in comments, download locations within the videos as static text, or often amusing videos of the steps one must follow to get the software up and running, often with malware along for the ride.

How does one find this information? Just type the name of the software and the secret word “crack” or a synonym.

If the information in the cited article is correct, whatever Google is doing to filter search results, the story may be incomplete.

Doesn’t Google have a list of stops words which allow certain content to be blocked? Doesn’t Google have supreme domination of smart software? Doesn’t Google have its eye on the legal ball?

DarkCyber sure doesn’t know the answer. Now what about partners who recycle Google search results for their metasearch systems? There is another story there, but DarkCyber is not a “real news” outfit like Fox News which altered via Photoshop some images. Who owns Fox News? Isn’t it Mr. Murdoch, who also owns the Wall Street Journal?

Are there any similarities in corporate gyroscopes between some of these large, globe spanning companies? Nah.

Stephen E Arnold, June 16, 2020

Springer Free Computer Science Books

June 16, 2020

The list of free Springer computer science books is at this link. More than 40 books are available. Our faves include The Algorithm Design Manual and Introduction to Evolutionary Computing. DarkCyber did not ask, “Why?”

Stephen E Arnold, June 16, 2020

MIT Takes a Stand: No, Not about the Jeffrey Epstein Matter, about Subscription Fees

June 12, 2020

I read “MIT, Guided by Open Access Principles, Ends Elsevier Negotiations: Institute ends negotiations for a new journals contract in the absence of a proposal aligning with the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts.”

The write up appears on an MIT Web page that states:

MIT has long been a leader in sharing its research, teaching, and scholarship openly with the world.

I asked myself, “Is that because MIT accepts funding from individuals of interesting character like Jeffrey Epstein?”

I don’t know, but could this be an example of “selective institutional ethicality”?

Putting the deceased Mr. Epstein aside, the write up reports with MIT-ness in full flower:

Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract. Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts. Developed by the MIT Libraries in collaboration with the Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research and the Committee on the Library System in October 2019, the MIT Framework is grounded in the conviction that openly sharing research and educational materials is key to the Institute’s mission of advancing knowledge and bringing that knowledge to bear on the world’s greatest challenges. It affirms the overarching principle that control of scholarship and its dissemination should reside with scholars and their institutions, and aims to ensure that scholarly research outputs are openly and equitably available to the broadest possible audience, while also providing valued services to the MIT community.

My goodness, Elsevier, a commercial enterprise, and MIT a really-good outfit dedicated to very, very high standards cannot reach an agreement.

The relationship between tenure track institutions and the publishers surfing the peculiar idea that once a person has the support of peers, that individual is good to go for decades.

That sounds, errr, like a symbiotic relationship. Well, that symbiosis is apparently at an end. The sucker fish is chewed off the fish by bean counters with green eyeshades.

Observations:

  1. Will students access Elsevier journals from another institution using a borrowed user name and password? Heck, could that happen? Does MIT accept money from interesting people and then look at the latest prank on a roof?
  2. Will the libraries’ directors have a meeting and figure out how to get access to some of those Elsevier, often tough to replicate articles based on tenure track crazed researchers? I can hear statements like these: “We can cut our cleaning services?” and “We can boost the price of soda in the vending machines?”
  3. Will Elsevier rethink how it is doing business? Should commercial database publishers be allowed to index the prized Elsevier journals? Should Elsevier become a foundation and scrape funds in ways close to the heart of some non-profit outfits? Should Elsevier try to work out a deal which shifts more of the costs of producing a journal consulted by as few as 100 people a year to the authors? “Hey, if these people want lifetime employment, pay up” makes sense to some.

Net net: Changes are coming down the commercial professional publishing pike and to the tenure track system through which “real” research based articles run. It will be entertaining to watch two outstanding institutions muddle through. That Epstein smile may surface again.

Stephen E Arnold, June 12, 2020

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