Allegations about Medical Misinformation Haunt US Tech Giants

May 17, 2024

Access to legal and safe abortions also known as the fight for reproductive rights are controversial issues in the United States and countries with large Christian populations. Opposition against abortions often spread false information about the procedure. They’re also known to spread misinformation about sex education, especially birth control. Mashable shares the unfortunate story that tech giants “Meta And Google Fuel Abortion Misinformation Across Africa, Asia, And Latin America, Report Finds.”

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and MSI Reproductive Choices (MSI) released a new report that found Meta and sometimes Google restricted abortion information and disseminated misinformation and abuse in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Abortion providers are prevented placing ads globally on Google and Meta. Meta also earns revenue from anti-abortion ads bought in the US and targeted at the aforementioned areas.

MSI claims in the report that Meta removed or rejected its ads in Vietnam, Nigeria, Nepal, Mexica, Kenya, and Ghana because of “sensitive content.” Meta also has a blanket advertising restrictions on MSI’s teams in Vietnam and Nepal without explanation. Google blocked ads with the keyword “pregnancy options” in Ghana and MSI claimed they were banned from using that term in a Google Adwords campaign.

Google offered an explanation:

“Speaking to Mashable, Google representative Michael Aciman said, ‘This report does not include a single example of policy violating content on Google’s platform, nor any examples of inconsistent enforcement. Without evidence, it claims that some ads were blocked in Ghana for referencing ‘pregnancy options’. To be clear, these types of ads are not prohibited from running in Ghana – if the ads were restricted, it was likely due to our longstanding policies against targeting people based on sensitive health categories, which includes pregnancy.’”

Google and Meta have been vague and inconsistent about why they’re removing pregnancy option ads, while allowing pro-life groups the spread unchecked misinformation about abortion. Meta, Google, and other social media companies mine user information, but they do scant to protect civil liberties and human rights.

Organizations like MSI and CCDH are doing what they can to fight bad actors. It’s an uphill battle and it would be easier if social media companies helped.

Whitney Grace, May 17, 2024

Blue-Chip Consulting Firm Needs Lawyers and Luck

May 15, 2024

McKinsey’s blue chip consultants continue their fancy dancing to explain away an itsy bitsy problem: ruined lives and run-of-the-mill deaths from drug overdoses. The International Business Times reminds us, “McKinsey Under Criminal Investigation Over Alleged Role in Fueling Opioid Epidemic.” The investigation, begun before the pandemic, continues to advance at the glacial pace of justice. Journalist Kiran Tom Sajan writes:

“Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company is under a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorneys’ offices in Massachusetts and the Western District of Virginia over its alleged involvement in fueling the opioid epidemic. The Federal prosecutors, along with the Justice Department’s civil division in Washington, are specifically examining whether the consulting firm participated in a criminal conspiracy by providing advice to Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies on marketing tactics aimed at increasing sales of prescription painkillers. Purdue is the manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the painkillers that allegedly contributed to widespread addiction and fatal overdoses. Since 2021, McKinsey has reached settlements of approximately $1 billion to resolve investigations and legal actions into its collaboration with opioid manufacturers, primarily Purdue. The company allegedly advised Purdue to intensify its marketing of the drug amid the opioid epidemic, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. McKinsey has not admitted any wrongdoing.”

Of course not. We learn McKinsey raked in about $86 million working for Purdue, most of it since the drug firm’s 2007 guilty plea. Sajan notes the investigations do not stop with the question of fueling the epidemic: The Justice Department is also considering whether McKinsey obstructed justice when it fired two incautious partners—they were caught communicating about the destruction of related documents. It is also examining whether the firm engaged in healthcare fraud when it helped Purdue and other opioid sellers make fraudulent Medicare claims. Will McKinsey’s recent settlement with insurance companies lend fuel to that dumpster fire? Will Lady Luck kick her opioid addiction and embrace those McKinsey professionals? Maybe.

Cynthia Murrell, May 15, 2024

Will Google Behave Like Telegram?

May 10, 2024

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

I posted a short item on LinkedIn about Telegram’s blocking of Ukraine’s information piped into Russia via Telegram. I pointed out that Pavel Durov, the founder of VK and Telegram, told Tucker Carlson that he was into “free speech.” A few weeks after the interview, Telegram blocked the data from Ukraine for Russia’s Telegram users. One reason given, as I recall, was that Apple was unhappy. Telegram rolled over and complied with a request that seems to benefit Russia more than Apple. But that’s just my opinion. The incident, which one of my team verified with a Ukrainian interacting with senior professionals in Ukraine, the block. Not surprisingly, Ukraine’s use of Telegram is under advisement. I think that means, “Find another method of sending encrypted messages and use that.” Compromised communications can translate to “Rest in Peace” in real time.

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A Hong Kong rock band plays a cover of the popular hit Glory to Hong Kong. The bats in the sky are similar to those consumed in Shanghai during a bat festival. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. What are you working on today? Security or AI?

I read “Hong Kong Puts Google in Hot Seat With Ban on Protest Song.” That news story states:

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday approved the government’s application for an injunction order to prevent anyone from playing Glory to Hong Kong with seditious intent. While the city has a new security law to punish that crime, the judgment shifted responsibility onto the platforms, adding a new danger that just hosting the track could expose companies to legal risks. In granting the injunction, judges said prosecuting individual offenders wasn’t enough to tackle the “acute criminal problems.”

What’s Google got to do with it that toe tapper Glory to Hong Kong?

The write up says:

The injunction “places Google, media platforms and other social media companies in a difficult position: Essentially pitting values such as free speech in direct conflict with legal obligations,” said Ryan Neelam, program director at the Lowy Institute and former Australian diplomat to Hong Kong and Macau. “It will further the broader chilling effect if foreign tech majors do comply.”

The question is, “Roll over as Telegram allegedly has, or fight Hong Kong and by extension everyone’s favorite streaming video influencer, China?” What will Google do? Scrub Glory to Hong Kong, number one with a bullet on someone’s hit parade I assume.

My guess is that Google will go to court, appeal, and then take appropriate action to preserve whatever revenue is at stake. I do know The Sundar & Prabhakar Comedy Show will not use Glory to Hong Kong as its theme for its 2024 review.

Stephen E Arnold, May 10, 2024

Google Trial: An Interesting Comment Amid the Yada Yada

May 8, 2024

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

I read “Google’s Antitrust Trial Spotlights Search Ads on the Final Day of Closing Arguments.” After decades of just collecting Google tchotchkes, US regulators appear to be making some progress. It is very difficult to determine if a company is a monopoly. It was much easier to count barrels of oil, billets of steel, and railroad cars than digital nothingness, wasn’t it?

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A giant whose name is Googzilla has most of the toys. He is reminding those who want the toys about his true nature. I believe Googzilla. Do you? Thanks, Microsoft Copilot. Good enough.

One of the many reports of the Google monopoly legal activity finally provided to me a quite useful, clear statement. Here’s the passage which caught my eye:

a coalition of state attorneys said Google’s search advertising business has trapped advertisers into its ecosystem while higher ad prices haven’t led to higher returns.

I want to consider this assertion. Please, read the original write up on Digiday to get the “real” news report. I am not a journalist; I am a dinobaby, and I have some thoughts to capture.

First, the Google has been doing Googley things for about a quarter of a century. A bit longer if one counts the Backrub service in an estimable Stanford computer building. From my point of view, Google has been doing “clever.” That means to just apologize, not ask permission. That means seek inspiration from others; for example, the IBM Clever system, the Yahoo-Overture advertising system, and the use of free to gain access to certain content like books, and pretty much doing what it wants. After figuring out that Google had to make money, it “innovated” with advertising, paid a fine, and acquired people and technology to match ads to queries. Yep, Oingo (Applied Semantics) helped out. The current antitrust matter will be winding down in 2024 and probably drag through 2025. Appeals for a company with lots of money can go slowly. Meanwhile Google’s activity can go faster.

Second, the data about Google monopoly are not difficult to identify. There is the state of the search market. Well, Eric Schmidt said years ago, Qwant kept him awake at night. I am not sure that was a credible statement. If Mr. Schmidt were awake at night, it might be the result of thinking about serious matters like money. His money. When Google became widely available, there were other Web search engines. I posted a list on my Web site which had a couple of hundred entries. Now the hot new search engines just recycle Bing and open source indexes, tossing in a handful of “special” sources like my mother jazzing up potato salad. There is Google search. And because of the reach of Google search, Google can sell ads.

Third, the ads are not just for search. Any click on a Google service is a click. Due to cute tricks like Chrome and ubiquitous services like maps, Google can slap ads many place. Other outfits cannot unless they are Google “partners.” Those partners are Google’s sales force. SEO customers become buyers of Google ads because that’s the most effective way to get traffic. Does a small business owner expect a Web site to be “found” without Google Local and maybe some advertising juice. Nope. No one but OSINT experts can get Google search to deliver useful results. Google Dorks exists for a reason. Google search quality drives ad sales. And YouTube ads? Lots of ads. Want an alternative? Good luck with Facebook, TikTok, ok.ru, or some other service.

Where’s the trial now? Google has asserted that it does not understand its own technology. The judge says he is circling down the drain of the marketing funnel. But the US government depends on the Google. That may be a factor or just the shadow of Googzilla.

Stephen E Arnold, May 8, 2024

Harvard University: A Sticky Wicket, Right, Old Chap?

April 22, 2024

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

I know plastic recycling does not work. The garbage pick up outfit assures me it recycles. Yeah, sure. However, I know one place where recycling is alive and well. I watched a video about someone named Francesca Gino, a Harvard professor. A YouTuber named Pete Judo presents information showing that Ms. Gino did some recycling. He did not award her those little green Ouroboros symbols. Copying and pasting are out of bounds in the Land of Ivory Towers in which Harvard has allegedly the ivory-est. You can find his videos at https://www.youtube.com/@PeteJudo1.

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The august group of academic scholars are struggling to decide which image best fits the 21st-century version of their prestigious university: The garbage recycling image representing reuse of trash generated by other scholars or the snake-eating-its-tail image of the Ouroboros. So many decisions have these elite thinkers. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Looking forward to your new minority stake in a company in a far off land?

As impressive a source as a YouTuber is, I think I found an even more prestigious organ of insight, the estimable New York Post. Navigate through the pop ups until you see the “real” news story “Harvard Medical School Professor Massively Plagiarized Report for Lockheed Martin Suit: Judge.” The thrust of this story is that a moonlighting scholar “plagiarized huge swaths of a report he submitted on carcinogenic chemicals, according to a federal judge, who agreed to remove it as evidence in a class action case against Lockheed Martin.”

Is this Medical School-related item spot on? I don’t know. Is the Gino-us activity on the money? For that matter, is a third Harvard professor of ethics guilty of an ethical violation in a journal article about — wait for it — ethics? I don’t know, and I don’t have the energy to figure out if plagiarism is the new Covid among academics in Boston.

However, based on the drift of these examples, I can offer several observations:

  1. Harvard University has a public relations problem. Judging from the coverage in outstanding information services as YouTube and the New York Post, the remarkable school needs to get its act together and do some “messaging.” When the plagiarism pandemic is real or fabricated by the type of adversary Microsoft continually says creates trouble, Harvard’s reputation is going to be worn down by a stream of digital bad news.
  2. The ways of a most Ivory Tower thing are mysterious. Nevertheless, it is clear that the mechanism for hiring, motivating, directing, and preventing academic superstars from sticking their hand in a pile of dog doo is not working. That falls into what I call “governance.” I want to use my best Harvard rhetoric now: “Hey, folks, you ain’t making good moves.”
  3. The top dog (president, CFO, bursar, whatever) you are on the path to an “F.” Imagine what a moral stick in the mud like William James would think of Harvard’s leadership if he were still waddling around, mumbling about radical pragmatism. Even more frightening is an AI version of this sporty chap doing a version of AI Jesus on Twitch. Instead of recycling Christian phrases, he would combine his thoughts about ethics, psychology, and Harvard with the possibly true stories about Harvard integrity herpes. Yikes.

Net net: What about educating tomorrow’s leaders. Should these young minds emulate what professors are doing, or should they be learning to pursue knowledge without shortcuts, cheating, plagiarism, and looking like characters from The Simpsons?

Stephen E Arnold, April 22, 2024

Google: The DMA Makes Us Harm Small Business

April 11, 2024

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

I cannot estimate the number of hours Googlers invested in crafting the short essay “New Competition Rules Come with Trade-Offs.” I find it a work of art. Maybe not the equal of Dante’s La Divina Commedia, but is is darned close.

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A deity, possibly associated with the quantumly supreme, reassures a human worried about life. Words are reality, at least to some fretful souls. Thanks MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

The essay pivots on unarticulated and assumed “truths.” Particularly charming are these:

  1. “We introduced these types of Google Search features to help consumers”
  2. “These businesses now have to connect with customers via a handful of intermediaries that typically charge large commissions…”
  3. “We’ve always been focused on improving Google Search….”

The first statement implies that Google’s efforts have been the “help.” Interesting: I find Google search often singularly unhelpful, returning results for malware, biased information, and Google itself.

The second statement indicates that “intermediaries” benefit. Isn’t Google an intermediary? Isn’t Google an alleged monopolist in online advertising?

The third statement is particularly quantumly supreme. Note the word “always.” John Milton uses such verbal efflorescence when describing God. Yes, “always” and improving. I am tremulous.

Consider this lyrical passage and the elegant logic of:

We’ll continue to be transparent about our DMA compliance obligations and the effects of overly rigid product mandates. In our view, the best approach would ensure consumers can continue to choose what services they want to use, rather than requiring us to redesign Search for the benefit of a handful of companies.

Transparent invokes an image of squeaky clean glass in a modern, aluminum-framed window, scientifically sealed to prevent its unauthorized opening or repair by anyone other than a specially trained transparency provider. I like the use of the adjective “rigid” because it implies a sturdiness which may cause the transparent window to break when inclement weather (blasts of hot and cold air from oratorical emissions) stress the see-through structures. The adult-father-knows-best reference in “In our view, the best approach”. Very parental. Does this suggest the EU is childish?

Net net: Has anyone compiled the Modern Book of Google Myths?

Stephen E Arnold, April 11, 2024

Tennessee Sends a Hunk of Burnin’ Love to AI Deep Fakery

April 11, 2024

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

Leave it the state that houses Music City. NPR reports, “Tennessee Becomes the First State to Protect Musicians and Other Artists Against AI.” Courts have demonstrated existing copyright laws are inadequate in the face of generative AI. This update to the state’s existing law is named the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act, or ELVIS Act for short. Clever. Reporter Rebecca Rosman writes:

“Tennessee made history on Thursday, becoming the first U.S. state to sign off on legislation to protect musicians from unauthorized artificial intelligence impersonation. ‘Tennessee is the music capital of the world, & we’re leading the nation with historic protections for TN artists & songwriters against emerging AI technology,’ Gov. Bill Lee announced on social media. While the old law protected an artist’s name, photograph or likeness, the new legislation includes AI-specific protections. Once the law takes effect on July 1, people will be prohibited from using AI to mimic an artist’s voice without permission.”

Prominent artists and music industry groups helped push the bill since it was introduced in January. Flanked by musicians and state representatives, Governor Bill Lee theatrically signed it into law on stage at the famous Robert’s Western World. But what now? In its write-up, “TN Gov. Lee Signs ELVIS Act Into Law in Honky-Tonk, Protects Musicians from AI Abuses,” The Tennessean briefly notes:

“The ELVIS Act adds artist’s voices to the state’s current Protection of Personal Rights law and can be criminally enforced by district attorneys as a Class A misdemeanor. Artists—and anyone else with exclusive licenses, like labels and distribution groups—can sue civilly for damages.”

While much of the music industry is located in and around Nashville, we imagine most AI mimicry does not take place within Tennessee. It is tricky to sue someone located elsewhere under state law. Perhaps this legislation’s primary value is as an example to lawmakers in other states and, ultimately, at the federal level. Will others be inspired to follow the Volunteer State’s example?

Cynthia Murrell, April 11, 2024

HP and Autonomy: The Long Tail of Search and Retrieval

April 8, 2024

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

The US justice system is flawed but when big money is at stake, it quickly works as it’s supposed to do. British tech entrepreneur is responsible for making the tech industry lose a lot of greenbacks and the BBC shares the details: “Mike Lynch: Autonomy Founder’s Fraud Trial Begins In The US.” Lynch, formerly called Britain’s equivalent of Bill Gates, was extradited to the US in 2023 after a British court found him guilty of a civil fraud cause. He is accused of over inflating the value of his former company Autonomy. Autonomy was sold to Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 2011 for $11 billion.

Lynch is facing sixteen charges and a possible twenty-five years in prison if convicted. Reid Weingarten, Lynch’s attorney, stated his client is prepared to take the stand. He also said that Lynch focused on Autonomy’s technology side and left the finances to others. After buying Autonomy, HP valued it at $2.2 billion and claimed Lynch duped them.

Lynch founded Autonomy in 1996 and it became a top 100 public companies in the United Kingdom. Autonomy was known for software that extracted information from unstructured content: video, emails, and phone calls.

HP is not mincing claims in this case:

“US prosecutors in San Francisco say Mr Lynch backdated agreements to mislead about the company’s sales; concealed the firm’s loss-making business reselling hardware; and intimidated or paid off people who raised concerns, among other claims. In court filings, his attorneys have argued that the "real reason for the write-down" was a failure by HP to manage the merger. ‘Then, with its stock price crumbling under the weight of its own mismanagement, circled the wagons to protect its new leaders and wantonly accused’ Mr Lynch of fraud, they wrote.”

London’s High Court convicted Lynch and Autonomy’s former CFO Sushovan Hussain of fraud. Hussain was imprisoned for five years and fined millions of dollars. The pair claimed HP’s case against them was buyer’s remorse and management failings.

Lynch should be held accountable for false claims, pay the fines, and be jailed if declared guilty. If the court does convict him, it will be time for more legal gymnastics.

Whitney Grace, April 8, 2024

Google: Practicing But Not Learning in France

March 22, 2024

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

I had to comment on this Google synthetic gems. The online advertising company with the Cracker Jack management team is cranking out titbits every days or two. True, none of these rank with the Microsoft deal to hire some techno-management wizards with DeepMind experience, but I have to cope with what flows into rural Kentucky.

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Those French snails are talkative — and tasty. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Are you going to license, hire, or buy DeepMind?

Google Fined $270 Million by French Regulatory Authority” delivers what strikes me a Lego block information about the estimable company. The write up presents yet another story about Google’s footloose and fancy free approach to French laws, rules, and regulations. The write up reports:

This latest fine is the result of Google’s artificial intelligence training practices. The [French regulatory] watchdog said in a statement that Google’s Bard chatbot — which has since been rebranded as Gemini —”used content from press agencies and publishers to train its foundation model, without notifying either them” or the Authority.

So what did the outstanding online advertising company do? The news story asserts:

The watchdog added that Google failed to provide a technical opt-out solution for publishers, obstructing their ability to “negotiate remuneration.”

The result? Another fine.

Google has had an interesting relationship with France. The country was the scene of the outstanding presentation of the Sundar and Prabhakar demonstration of the quantumly supreme Bard smart software. Google has written checks to France in the past. Now it is associated with flubbing what are relatively straightforward for France requirements to work with publishers.

Not surprisingly, the outfit based in far off California allegedly said, according to the cited news story:

Google criticized a “lack of clear regulatory guidance,” calling for greater clarity in the future from France’s regulatory bodies.  The fine is linked to a copyright case that began in 2020, when the French Authority found Google to be acting in violation of France’s copyright and related rights law of 2019.

My experience with France, French laws, and the ins and outs of working with French organizations is limited. Nevertheless, my son — who attended university in France — told me an anecdote which illustrates how French laws work. Here’s the tale which I assume is accurate. He is a reliable sort.

A young man was in the immigration office in Paris. He and his wife were trying to clarify a question related to her being a French citizen. The bureaucrat had not accepted her birth certificate from a municipal French government, assorted documents from her schooling from pre-school to university, and the oddments of electric bills, rental receipts, and medical records. The husband who was an American told me son, “This office does not think my wife is French. She is. And I think we have it nailed this time. My wife has a photograph of General De Gaulle awarding her father a medal.” My son told me, “Dad, it did not work. The husband and wife had to refile the paperwork to correct an error made on the original form.”

My takeaway from this anecdote is that Google may want to stay within the bright white lines in France. Getting entangled in the legacy of Napoleon’s red tape can be an expensive, frustrating experience. Perhaps the Google will learn? On the other hand, maybe not.

Stephen E Arnold,  March 22, 2023

Another Small Victory for OpenAI Against Authors

March 12, 2024

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

For those following the fight between human content creators and AI firms, score one for the algorithm engineers. TorrentFreak reports, “Court Dismisses Authors’ Copyright Infringement Claims Against OpenAI.” At issue is generative AI’s practice of feeding on humans’ work, without compensation, in order to mimic it. Multiple suits have been filed by record labels, writers, and visual artists. Reporter Ernesto Van der Sar writes:

“Several of the lawsuits filed by book authors include a piracy component. The cases allege that tech companies, including Meta and OpenAI, used the controversial Books3 dataset to train their models. The Books3 dataset was created by AI researcher Shawn Presser in 2020, who scraped the library of ‘pirate’ site Bibliotik. The general vision was that the plaintext collection of more than 195,000 books, which is nearly 37GB in size, could help AI enthusiasts build better models. The vision wasn’t wrong; large text archives are great training material for Large Language Models, but many authors disapprove of their works being used in this manner, without permission or compensation.”

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A large group of rights holders have a football team. Those big folks are chasing the small but feisty opponent down the field. Which team will score? Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Keep up the good enough work.

Is that so unreasonable? Maybe not, but existing copyright law did not foresee this situation. We learn:

“After reviewing input from both sides, California District Judge Araceli Martínez-Olguín ruled on the matter. In her order, she largely sides with OpenAI. The vicarious copyright infringement claim fails because the court doesn’t agree that all output produced by OpenAI’s models can be seen as a derivative work. To survive, the infringement claim has to be more concrete.”

The plaintiffs are not out of moves, however. They can still file an amended complaint. But unless updated legislation is passed in the meantime, they may just be rebuffed again. So all they need is for Congress to act quickly to protect artists from tech firms. Any day now.

Cynthia Murrell, March 12, 2024

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