Modern Elon Threats: Tossing Granola or Grenades

June 13, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Bad me. I ignored the Apple announcements. I did spot one interesting somewhat out-of-phase reaction to Tim Apple’s attempt to not screw up again. “Elon Musk Calls Apple Devices with ChatGPT a Security Violation.” Since the Tim Apple crowd was learning about what was “to be,” not what is, this statement caught my attention:

If Apple integrates OpenAI at the OS level, then Apple devices will be banned at my companies. That is an unacceptable security violation.

I want to comment about the implicit “then” in this remarkable prose output from Elon Musk. On the surface, the “then” is that the most affluent mobile phone users will be prohibited from the X.com service. I wonder how advertisers are reacting to this idea of cutting down the potential eyeballs for their product if advertised to an group of prospects no longer clutching Apple iPhones. I don’t advertise, but I can game out how the meetings between the company with advertising dollars and the agency helping the company make informed advertising decisions. (Let’s assume that advertising “works”, and advertising outfits are informed for the purpose of this blog post.)

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A tortured genius struggles against the psychological forces that ripped the Apple car from the fingers of its rightful owner. Too bad. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. How is your coding security coming along? What about the shut down of the upcharge for Copilot? Oh, no answer. That’s okay. Good enough.

Let’s assume Mr. Musk “sees” something a dinobaby like me cannot. What’s with the threat logic? The loss of a beloved investment? A threat to a to-be artificial intelligence company destined to blast into orbit on a tower of intellectual rocket fuel? Mr. Musk has detected a signal. He has interpreted. And he has responded with an ultimatum. That’s pretty fast action, even for a genius. I started college in 1962, and I dimly recall a class called Psych 101. Even though I attended a low-ball institution, the knowledge value of the course was evident in the large and shabby lecture room with a couple of hundred seats.

Threats, if I am remembering something that took place 62 years ago, tell more about the entity issuing the threat than the actual threat event itself.  The words worming from the infrequently accessed cupboards of my mind are linked to an entity wanting to assert, establish, or maintain some type of control. Slapping quasi-ancient psycho-babble on Mr. Musk is not fair to the grand profession of psychology. However, it does appear to reveal that whatever Apple thinks it will do in its “to be”, coming-soon service struck a nerve into Mr. Musk’s super-bright, well-developed brain.

I surmise there is some insecurity with the Musk entity. I can’t figure out the connection between what amounts to vaporware and a threat to behead or de-iPhone a potentially bucket load of prospects for advertisers to pester. I guess that’s why I did not invent the Cybertruck, a boring machine, and a rocket ship.

But a threat over vaporware in a field which has demonstrated that Googzilla, Microsoft, and others have dropped their baskets of curds and whey is interesting. The speed with which Mr. Musk reacts suggests to me that he perceives the Apple vaporware as an existential threat. I see it as another big company trying to grab some fruit from the AI tree until the bubble deflates. Software does have a tendency to disappoint, build up technical debt, and then evolve to the weird service which no one can fix, change, or kill because meaningful competition no longer exists. When will the IRS computer systems be “fixed”? When will airline reservations systems serve the customer? When will smart software stop hallucinating?

I actually looked up some information about threats from the recently disgraced fake research publisher John Wiley & Sons. “Exploring the Landscape of Psychological Threat” reminded me why I thought psychology was not for me. With weird jargon and some diagrams, the threat may be linked to Tesla’s rumored attempt to fall in love with Apple. The product of this interesting genetic bonding would be the Apple car, oodles of cash for Mr. Musk, and the worshipful affection of the Apple acolytes. But the online date did not work out. Apple swiped Tesla into the loser bin. Now Mr. Musk can get some publicity, put X.com (don’t you love Web sites that remind people of pornography on the Dark Web?) in the news, and cause people like me to wonder. “Why dump on Apple?” (The outfit has plenty of worries with the China thing, doesn’t it? What about some anti-trust action? What about the hostility of M3 powered devices?)

Here’s my take:

  1. Apple Intelligence is a better “name” than Mr. Musk’s AI company xAI. Apple gets to use “AI” but without the porn hook.
  2. A controversial social media emission will stir up the digital elite. Publicity is good. Just ask Michael Cimino of Heaven’s Gate fame?
  3. Mr. Musk’s threat provides an outlet for the failure to make Tesla the Apple car.

What if I am wrong? [a] I don’t care. I don’t use an iPhone, Twitter, or online advertising. [b] A GenX, Y, or Z pooh-bah will present the “truth” and set the record straight. [c] Mr. Musk’s threat will be like the result of a Boring Company operation. A hole, a void.

Net net: Granola. The fast response to what seems to be “coming soon” vaporware suggests a potential weak spot in Mr. Musk’s make up. Is Apple afraid? Probably not. Is Mr. Musk? Yep.

Stephen E Arnold, June 13, 2024

Think You Know Which Gen Z Is What?

June 7, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I had to look this up? A Gen Z was born when? A Gen Z was born between 1981 and 1996. In 2024, a person aged 28 to 43 is, therefore, a Gen Z. Who knew? The definition is important. I read “Shocking Survey: Nearly Half of Gen Z Live a Double Life Online.” What do you know? A nice suburb, lots of Gen Zs, and half of these folks are living another life online. Go to one of those hip new churches with kick-back names and half of the Gen Zs heads bowed in prayer are living a double life. For whom do those folks pray? Hit the golf club and look at the polo shirt clad, self-satisfied 28 to 43 year olds. Which self is which? The chat room Dark Web person or a happy golfer enjoying the 19th hole?

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Someone who is older is jumping to conclusions. Those vans probably contain office supplies, toxic waste, or surplus government equipment. No one would take Gen Zs out of the flow, would they? Thanks, MSFT. Do you have Gen Zs working on your superlative security systems?

The write up reports:

A survey of 2,000 Americans, split evenly by generation, found that 46% of Gen Z respondents feel their personality online vastly differs from how they present themselves in the real world.

Only eight percent of the baby boomers are different online. New flash: If you ever meet me, I am the same person writing these blog posts. As an 80-year-old dinobaby, I don’t need another persona to baffle the brats in the social media sewer. I just avoid the sewer and remain true to my ageing self.

The write up also provides this glimpse into the hearts and souls of those 28 to 43:

Specifically, 31% of Gen Z respondents admitted their online world is a secret from family

That’s good. These Gen Zs can keep a secret. But why? What are they trying to hide from their family, friends, and co-workers? I can guess but won’t.

If you work with a Gen Z, here’s an allegedly valid factoid from the survey:

53% of Gen Zers said it’s easier to express themselves online than offline.

Want another? Too bad. Here’s a winner insight:

68 percent of Gen Zs sometimes feel a disconnect between who they are online and offline.

I think I took a psychology class when I was a freshman in college. I recall learning about a mental disorder with inconsistent or contradictory elements. Are Gen Zs schizophrenic? That’s probably the wrong term, but I think I am heading in the right direction. Mental disorder signals flashing. Just the Gen Z I want to avoid if possible.

One aspect of the write up in the article is that the “author” — maybe human, maybe AI, maybe Gen X with a grudge, who knows? — is that some explanation of who paid the bill to obtain data from 2,000 people. Okay, who paid the bill? Answer: Lenovo. What company conducted the study? Answer: OnePoll. (I never heard of the outfit, and I am too much of a dinobaby to care much.)

Net net: The Gen Zs seem to be a prime source of persons of interest for those investigating certain types of online crime. There you go.

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2024

Meta Deletes Workplace. Why? AI!

June 7, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Workplace was Meta’s attempt to jump into the office-productivity ring and face off against the likes of Slack and MS Teams. It did not fare well. Yahoo Finance shares the brief write-up, “Meta Is Shuttering Workplace, Its Enterprise Version of Facebook.” The company is spinning the decision as a shift to bigger and better things. Bloomberg’s Kurt Wagner cites reporting from TechCrunch as she writes:

“The service operated much like the original Facebook social network, but let people have separate accounts for their work interactions. Workplace had as many as 7 million total paying subscribers in May 2021. … Meta once had ambitious plans for Workplace, and viewed it as a way to make money through subscriptions as well as a chance to extend Facebook’s reach by infusing the product into work and office settings. At one point, Meta touted a list of high-profile customers, including Starbucks Corp., Walmart Inc. and Spotify Technology SA. The company will continue to focus on workplace-related products, a spokesperson said, but in other areas, such as the metaverse by building features for the company’s Quest VR headsets.”

The Meta spokesperson repeated the emphasis on those future products, also stating:

“We are discontinuing Workplace from Meta so we can focus on building AI and metaverse technologies that we believe will fundamentally reshape the way we work.”

Meta will continue to use Workplace internally, but everyone else has until the end of August 2025 before the service ends. Meta plans to keep user data accessible until the end of May 2026. The company also pledges to help users shift to Zoom’s Workvivo platform. What, no forced migration into the Metaverse and their proprietary headsets? Not yet, anyway.

Cynthia Murrell, June 7, 2024

Large Dictators. Name the Largest

June 6, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I read “Social Media Bosses Are the Largest Dictators, Says Nobel Peace Prize Winner.” I immediately thought of “fat” dictators; for example, Benito Mussolini, but I may have him mixed up with Charles Laughton in “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

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A mother is trying to implement the “keep your kids off social media” recommendation. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

I think the idea intended is something along the lines of “unregulated companies and their CEOs have more money and power than some countries. These CEOs act like dictators on a par with Julius Caesar. Brutus and friends took out Julius, but the heads of technopolies are indifferent to laws, social norms, and the limp limbs of ethical behavior.”

That’s a lot of words. Ergo: Largest dictators is close enough for horseshoes. It is 2024, and no one wants old-fashioned ideas like appropriate business activities to get in the way of making money and selling online advertising.

The write up shares the quaint ideas of a Noble Peace Prize winner. Here are the main points about social media and technology by someone who is interested in peace:

  1. Tech bros are dictators with considerable power over information and ideas
  2. Tech bros manipulate culture, language, and behavior
  3. The companies these dictators runs “change the way we feel” and “change the way we see the world and change the way we act”

I found this statement from the article suggestive:

“In the Philippines, it was rich versus poor. In the United States, it’s race,” she said. “Black Lives Matter … was bombarded on both sides by Russian propaganda. And the goal was not to make people believe one thing. The goal was to burst this wide open to create chaos.”  The way tech companies are “inciting polarization, inciting fear and anger and hatred” changes us “at a personal level, a societal level”, she said.

What’s the fix? A speech? Two actions are needed:

  1. Dump the protection afforded the dictators by the 1996 Communications Decency Act
  2. Prevent children from using social media.

Now it is time for a reality check. Changing the Communications Decency Act will take some time. Some advocates have been chasing this legal Loch Ness monster for years. The US system is sensitive to “laws” and lobbyists. Change is slow and regulations are often drafted by lobbyists. Therefore, don’t hold your breath on revising the CDA by the end of the week.

Second, go to a family-oriented restaurant in the US. How many of the children have mobile phones? Now, be a change expert, and try to get the kids at a nearby table to give you their mobile devices. Let me know how that works out, please.

Net net: The Peace Prize winner’s ideas are interesting. That’s about it. And the fat dictators? Keto diets and chemicals do the trick.

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2024

Wanna Be Happy? Use the Internet

May 13, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

The glory days of the Internet have faded. Social media, AI-generated baloney, and brain numbing TikTok-esque short videos — Outstanding ways to be happy. What about endless online scams, phishing, and smishing, deep fake voices to grandma from grandchildren needing money — Yes, guaranteed uplifts to sagging spirits.

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The idea of a payoff in a coffee shop is silly. Who would compromise academic standards for a latte and a pile of cash. Absolutely no one involved in academic pursuits. Good enough, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

When I read two of the “real” news stories about how the Internet manufactures happiness, I asked myself, “Exactly what’s with this study?” The PR push to say happy things about online reminded me of the OII or Oxford Internet Institute and some of its other cheerleading. And what is the OII? It is an outfit which receives some university support, funds from private industry, and foundation cash; for example, the Shirley Institute.

In my opinion, it is often difficult to figure out if the “research” is wonky due to its methodology, the desire to keep some sources of funding writing checks, or a nifty way to influence policies in the UK and elsewhere. The magic of the “Oxford” brand gives the outfit some cachet for those who want to collect conference name tags to bedeck their office coat hangers.

The OII is back in the content marketing game. I read the BBC’s “Internet Access Linked to Higher Wellbeing, Study Finds” and the Guardian’s “Internet Use Is Associated with Greater Wellbeing, Global Study Finds.” Both articles are generated from the same PR-type verbiage. But the weirdness of the assertion is undermined by this statement from the BBC’s rewrite of the OII’s PR:

The study was not able to prove cause and effect, but the team found measures of life satisfaction were 8.5% higher for those who had internet access. Nor did the study look at the length of time people spent using the internet or what they used it for, while some factors that could explain associations may not have be considered.

The Oxford brand and the big numbers about a massive sample size cannot hide one awkward fact: There is little evidence that happiness drips from Internet use. Convenience? Yep. Entertainment? Yep. Crime? Yep. Self-harm, drug use or experimentation, meme amplification. Yep, yep, yep.

Several questions arise:

  1. Why is the message “online is good” suddenly big news? If anything, the idea runs counter to the significant efforts to contain access to potentially harmful online content in the UK and elsewhere. Gee, I wonder if the companies facing some type of sanctions are helping out the good old OII?
  2. What’s up with Oxford University itself? Doesn’t it have more substantive research to publicize? Perhaps Oxford should  emulate the “Naked Scientist” podcast or lobby to get Melvin Bragg to report about more factual matters? Does Oxford have an identity crisis?
  3. And the BBC and the Guardian! Have the editors lost the plot? Don’t these professionals have first hand knowledge about the impact of online on children and young adults? Don’t they try to talk to their kids or grandkids at the dinner table when the youthful progeny of “real” news people are using their mobile phones?

I like facts which push back against received assumptions. But online is helping out those who use it needs a bit more precision, clearer thinking, and less tenuous cause-and-effect hoo-hah in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, May 13, 2024

AI May Help Real Journalists Explain Being Smart. May, Not Will

May 9, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I found the link between social media and stupid people interesting. I am not sure I embrace the causal chain as presented in “As IQ Scores Decline in the US, Experts Blame the Rise of Tech — How Stupid Is Your State?” The “real” news story has a snappy headline, but social media and IQ? Let’s take a look. The write up states:

Here’s the first sentence of the write up. Note the novel coinage, dumbening. I assume the use of dumb as a gerund open the door to such statements as “I dumb” or “We dumbed together at Harvard’s lecture about ethics” or “My boss dumbed again, like he did last summer.”

Do all Americans go through a process of dumbening?

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A tour group has a low IQ when it comes to understanding ancient rock painting. Should we blame technology and social media? Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Earning extra money because you do great security?

The write up explains that IQ scores are going down after a “rise” which began in 1905. What causes this decline? Is it broken homes? Lousy teachers? A lack of consequences for inattentiveness? Skipping school? Crappy pre-schools? Bus rides? School starting too early or too late? Dropping courses in art, music, and PE? Chemical-infused food? Television? Not learning cursive?

The answer is, “Technology.” More specifically, the culprit is social media. The article quotes a professor, who opines:

The professor [Hetty Roessingh, professor emerita of education at the University of Calgary] said that time spent with devices like phones and iPads means less time for more effective methods of increasing one’s intelligence level.

Several observations:

  1. Wow.
  2. Technology is an umbrella term. Social media is an umbrella term. What exactly is causing people to be dumb?
  3. What about an IQ test being mismatched to those who take it? My IQ was pretty low when I lived in Campinas, Brazil. It was tough to answer questions I could not read until I learned Portuguese.

Net net: Dumbening. You got it.

Stephen E Arnold, May 9, 2024

LinkedIn Content Ripple: Possible Wave Amplification

April 19, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Google continues to make headlines. This morning (April 19, 2024) I flicked through the information in my assorted newsreaders. The coverage of Google’s calling the police and have alleged non-Googley professionals chatted up by law enforcement sparked many comments. One of those comments about this most recent demonstration of management mastery was from Dr. Timnit Gebru. My understanding of the Gebru incident is that she called attention to the bias in Google’s smart software systems and methods. She wrote a paper. Big thinkers at Google did not like the paper. The paper appeared, and Dr. Gebru disappeared from the Google payroll. I am have over simplified this remarkable management maneuver, but like some of Google’s synthetic data, I think I am close enough for horse shoes.

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Is change coming to a social media service which has been quite homogeneous? Thanks, MSFT Copilot. How’s the security work coming?

Dr. Gebru posted a short item on LinkedIn, which is Microsoft’s professional social media service. Here’s what Dr. Gebru made available to LinkedIn’s members:

Not even 24 hrs after making history as the first company to mass fire workers for pro-Palestine protests, by summarily firing 28 people, Google announced that the “(ir)responsible AI org,” the one they created in response to firing me, is now reporting up the Israeli office, through an SVP there. Seems like they want us to know how forcefully and clearly they are backing this genocide.

To provide context, Dr. Gebru linked to a Medium (a begging for dollars information service). That article brandished the title “STATEMENT from Google Workers with the No Tech for Apartheid Campaign on Google’s Mass, Retaliatory Firings of Workers: [sic].” This Medium article is at this link. I am not sure if [a] these stories are going to require registration or payment to view and [b] the items will remain online.

What’s interesting about the Dr. Gebru item and her link is the comments made by LinkedIn members. These suggest that [a] most LinkedIn members either did not see Dr. Gebru’s post or were not motivated go click one of the “response” icons or [b] topics like Google’s management mastery are not popular with the LinkedIn audience.

Several observations based on my experience:

  1. Dr. Gebru’s use of LinkedIn may be a one-time shot, but on the other hand, it might provide ideas for others with a specific point of view to use as a platform
  2. With Apple’s willingness to remove Meta apps from the Chinese iPhone app store, will LinkedIn follow with its own filtering of content? I don’t know the answer to the question, but clicking on Dr. Gebru’s link will make it easy to track
  3. Will LinkedIn begin to experience greater pressure to allow content not related to self promotion and look for business contacts? I have noticed an uptick in requests from what appear to be machine-generated images preponderately young females asking, “Will you be my contact?” I routinely click, No, and I often add a comment along the lines of “I am 80 years old. Why do you want to interact with me?”

Net net: Change may be poised to test some of the professional social media service’s policies.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2024

Another Cultural Milestone for Social Media

April 16, 2024

Well this is an interesting report. PsyPost reports, “Researchers Uncover ‘Pornification’ Trend Among Female Streamers on Twitch.” Authored by Kristel Anciones-Anguita and Mirian Checa-Romero, the study was published in the  Humanities and Social Sciences Communications journal. The team analyzed clips from 1,920 livestreams on Twitch.tv, a platform with a global daily viewership of 3 million. They found women streamers sexualize their presentations much more often, and more intensely, than the men. Also, the number of sexy streams depends on the category. Not surprisingly, broadcasters in categories like ASMR and “Pools, Hot Tubs & Beaches” are more self-sexualized than, say, gamer girls. Shocking, we know.

The findings are of interest because Twitch broadcasters formulate their own images, as opposed to performers on traditional media. There is a longstanding debate, even among feminists, whether using sex to sell oneself is empowering or oppressive. Or maybe both. Writer Eric W. Dolan notes:

“Studies on traditional media (such as TV and movies) have extensively documented the sexualization of women and its consequences. However, the interactive and user-driven nature of new digital platforms like Twitch.tv presents new dynamics that warrant exploration, especially as they become integral to daily entertainment and social interaction. … This autonomy raises questions about the factors driving self-sexualization, including societal pressures, the pursuit of popularity, and the platform’s economic incentives.”

Or maybe women are making fully informed choices and framing them as victims of outside pressure is condescending. Just a thought. The issue gets more murky when the subjects, or their audiences, are underage. The write-up observes:

“These patterns of self-sexualization also have potential implications for the shaping of audience attitudes towards gender and sexuality. … ‘Our long-term goals for this line of research include deepening our understanding of how online sexualized culture affects adolescent girls and boys and how we can work to create more inclusive and healthy online communities,’ Anciones-Anguita said. ‘This study is just the beginning, and there is much more to explore in terms of the pornification of culture and its psychological impact on users.”

Indeed there is. See the article for more details on what the study considered “sexualization” and what it found.

Cynthia Murrell, April 16, 2024

Social Media: Do You See the Hungry Shark?

April 2, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

After years of social media’s diffusion, those who mostly ignored how flows of user-generated content works like a body shop’s sandblaster. Now that societal structures are revealing cracks in the drywall and damp basements, I have noticed an uptick in chatter about Facebook- and TikTok-type services. A recent example of Big Thinkers’ wrestling with what is a quite publicly visible behavior of mobile phone fiddling is the write up in Nature “The Great Rewiring: Is Social Media Really Behind an Epidemic of Teenage Mental Illness?”

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Thanks, MSFT Copilot. How is your security initiative coming along? Ah, good enough.

The article raises an interesting question: Are social media and mobile phones the cause of what many of my friends and colleagues see as a very visible disintegration of social conventions. The fabric of civil behavior seems to be fraying and maybe coming apart. I am not sure the local news in the Midwest region where I live reports the shootings that seem to occur with some regularity.

The write up (possibly written by a person who uses social media and demonstrates polished swiping techniques) wrestles with the possibility that the unholy marriage of social media and mobile devices may not be the “problem.” The notion that other factors come into play is an example of an established source of information working hard to take a balanced, rational approach to what is the standard of behavior.

The write up says:

Two things can be independently true about social media. First, that there is no evidence that using these platforms is rewiring children’s brains or driving an epidemic of mental illness. Second, that considerable reforms to these platforms are required, given how much time young people spend on them.

Then the article wraps up with this statement:

A third truth is that we have a generation in crisis and in desperate need of the best of what science and evidence-based solutions can offer. Unfortunately, our time is being spent telling stories that are unsupported by research and that do little to support young people who need, and deserve, more.

Let me offer several observations:

  1. The corrosive effect of digital information flows is simply not on the radar of those who “think about” social media. Consequently, the inherent function of online information is overlooked, and therefore, the rational statements are fluffy.
  2. The only way to constrain digital information and the impact of its flows is to pull the plug. That will not happen because of the drug cartel-like business models produce too much money.
  3. The notion that “research” will light the path forward is interesting. I cannot “trust” peer reviewed papers authored by the former president of Stanford University or the research of the former Top Dog at Harvard University’s “ethics” department. Now I am supposed to believe that “research” will provide answers. Not so fast, pal.

Net net: The failure to understand a basic truth about how online works means that fixes are not now possible. Sound gloomy? You are getting my message. Time to adapt and remain flexible. The impacts are just now being seen as more than a post-Covid or economic downturn issue. Online information is a big fish, and it remains mostly invisible. The good news is that some people have recognized that the water in the data lake has powerful currents.

Stephen E Arnold, April 2, 2024

NSO Group: Pegasus Code Wings Its Way to Meta and Mr. Zuckerberg

March 7, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

NSO Group’s senior managers and legal eagles will have an opportunity to become familiar with an okay Brazilian restaurant and a waffle shop. That lovable leader of Facebook, Instagram, Threads, and WhatsApp may have put a stick in the now-ageing digital bicycle doing business as NSO Group. The company’s mark is pegasus, which is a flying horse. Pegasus’s dad was Poseidon, and his mom was the knock out Gorgon Medusa, who did some innovative hair treatments. The mythical pegasus helped out other gods until Zeus stepped in an acted with extreme prejudice. Quite a myth.

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Poseidon decides to kill the mythical Pegasus, not for its software, but for its getting out of bounds. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Close enough.

Life imitates myth. “Court Orders Maker of Pegasus Spyware to Hand Over Code to WhatsApp” reports that the hand over decision:

is a major legal victory for WhatsApp, the Meta-owned communication app which has been embroiled in a lawsuit against NSO since 2019, when it alleged that the Israeli company’s spyware had been used against 1,400 WhatsApp users over a two-week period. NSO’s Pegasus code, and code for other surveillance products it sells, is seen as a closely and highly sought state secret. NSO is closely regulated by the Israeli ministry of defense, which must review and approve the sale of all licenses to foreign governments.

NSO Group hired former DHS and NSA official Stewart Baker to fix up NSO Group gyro compass. Mr. Baker, who is a podcaster and affiliated with the law firm Steptoe and Johnson. For more color about Mr. Baker, please scan “Former DHS/NSA Official Stewart Baker Decides He Can Help NSO Group Turn A Profit.”

A decade ago, Israel’s senior officials might have been able to prevent a social media company from getting a copy of the Pegasus source code. Not anymore. Israel’s home-grown intelware technology simply did not thwart, prevent, or warn about the Hamas attack in the autumn of 2023. If NSO Group were battling in court with Harris Corp., Textron, or Harris Corp., I would not worry. Mr. Zuckerberg’s companies are not directly involved with national security technology. From what I have heard at conferences, Mr. Zuckerberg’s commercial enterprises are responsive to law enforcement requests when a bad actor uses Facebook for an allegedly illegal activity. But Mr. Zuckerberg’s managers are really busy with higher priority tasks. Some folks engaged in investigations of serious crimes must be patient. Presumably the investigators can pass their time scrolling through #Shorts. If the Guardian’s article is accurate, now those Facebook employees can learn how Pegasus works. Will any of those learnings stick? One hopes not.

Several observations:

  1. Companies which make specialized software guard their systems and methods carefully. Well, that used to be true.
  2. The reorganization of NSO Group has not lowered the firm’s public relations profile. NSO Group can make headlines, which may not be desirable for those engaged in national security.
  3. Disclosure of the specific Pegasus systems and methods will get a warm, enthusiastic reception from those who exchange ideas for malware and related tools on private Telegram channels, Dark Web discussion groups, or via one of the “stealth” communication services which pop up like mushrooms after rain in rural Kentucky.

Will the software Pegasus be terminated? I remain concerned that source code revealing how to perform certain tasks may lead to downstream, unintended consequences. Specialized software companies try to operate with maximum security. Now Pegasus may be flying away unless another legal action prevents this.

Where is Zeus when one needs him?

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2024

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