Category Archives: Technology

Twitter Employees Allegedly Recruited by Saudi Arabia

It’s not just social media companies who sell your data. Sometimes, people steal it.

Two former Twitter employees have been charged with spying after they reportedly obtained personal account information for critics of the government of Saudi Arabia.

A complaint unsealed on Wednesday in US district court in San Francisco detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi officials to recruit employees at the social media giant to look up the private data of thousands of Twitter accounts.

One of the former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo, was arrested on Tuesday on charges of spying and falsifying an invoice to obstruct an FBI investigation. He is a US citizen. The other former employee, a Saudi citizen named Ali Alzabarah, was accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

White House Restricted Access to Transcripts of Calls

Hmmm

The White House has restricted access to transcripts of some of President Donald Trump’s calls with foreign leaders, US media report.

Officials said notes about calls to leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Saudi crown prince had not been handled in the usual way.

They say aides severely curtailed who saw them in a bid to stop leaks.

The White House has not so far commented on the claims, which follow the start of an impeachment inquiry.

Democrats launched the inquiry after the transcript of a July phone call revealed that President Trump pushed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

According to officials quoted in various US media outlets, the policy of restricting access to transcripts of some of the president’s calls with foreign leaders began more than a year ago.

Setting aside the current controversy, is this a scandal? One would think that the transcripts and/or recordings of calls between the POTUS and foreign leaders would be highly restricted. Secrecy is critical so that our president can have frank conversations with foreign leaders without either participant worrying about the contents of the conversation being made public.

In this case, due to repeated instances of someone in the U.S. government leaking parts of these conversations to the media, the administration changed the way they secure the information to make it more secure. Isn’t that what we would expect them to do? The move to make the transcripts more secure was in response to actual breaches of security.

Identity Protection

Here’s an interesting and long article about how protesters around the world are finding ways to obscure their identities from the proliferation of face-recognition cameras being used by law enforcement and others. It’s a growing concern even if one is not protesting or breaking the law. We have entered an age of constant surveillance and it’s getting worse.

The use of reflective materials to evade surveillance isn’t just being explored in Hong Kong. In 2016, American artist Scott Urban set up a Kickstarter page to crowdfund his anti-surveillance sunglasses, Reflectacles.
The eyewear is made from a material that reflects infrared light, meaning the frames appear as flashes of white light in surveillance footage. Because of the glare, a person could appear anonymous in images and photos, his website claims.
Urban said his website has experienced a spike in hits from Hong Kong, as a result of the recent protests.
“I’m not trying to hawk a product,” Urban said in a phone interview. “I’m just trying to tell people that when your face becomes your identity, there’s no going back. You’re going to be tracked constantly in any public space.”
[…]
Many are worried about the future, when the “one country, two systems” arrangement that allows the city certain freedoms and autonomy expires in 2047.
As a 20-year-old student protester — who only gave his surname, Lau — took a break in the shade during a protest on a blazingly hot day, he kept his face mask on, even though no police were around.
“We are not prepared to be picked up by the government yet,” he said.

AOC Blocks Twitter Followers

Rules for thee, not for me...

Echoing the latter, Ocasio-Cortez responded to the letter via Twitter, saying that, out of her 5.2 million followers, she only blocks 20 accounts for “ongoing harassment.” None of the users are her constituents, she wrote.

“Harassment is not a viewpoint,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in the tweet. “Some accounts, like the Daily Caller, posted fake nude photos of me & abused my comments to spread it. No one is entitled to abuse.”

“People are free to speak whatever classist, racist, false, misogynistic, bigoted comments they’d like,” the congresswoman continued in the Twitter thread. “They do not have the right to force others to endure their harassment and abuse.”

But Trump can’t block people.

WASHINGTON — President Trump has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account because they criticized or mocked him, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. The ruling could have broader implications for how the First Amendment applies to the social-media era.

For the record, I think the court got it wrong. I agree with AOC and Trump on this one. But the rules are the rules…

New Pro-Abortion Google Rule

It seems to me that a search engine should just find and present the underlying websites based on their content and not seek to interpret, filter, or twist that content on the basis of Google’s own biases.

new Google policy that was meant to rein in deceptive advertising by “crisis pregnancy centers” has a loophole that is allowing the centers to continue to post misleading ads on the search engine.

Crisis pregnancy centers often seek to aggressively discourage women from getting abortions and have earned the ire of abortion rights groups for often seeming to resemble abortion clinics.

The loophole means only users who are specifically searching under the term “abortion” will be provided information on Google’s website about whether a particular health care clinic does – or does not – offer the procedure to women.

If a user searches under other terms, like “free pregnancy test” or “pregnancy symptoms”, no such information appears under the advertisements for the same clinics. While the difference might seem semantic, there is a worry that it will confuse women who might mistake a crisis pregnancy center for an abortion clinic.

Facebook is Listening

And again

Facebook has become the latest company to admit that human contractors listened to recordings of users without their knowledge, a practice the company now says has been “paused”.

Citing contractors who worked on the project, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that the company hired people to listen to audio conversations carried out on Facebook Messenger.

The practice involved users who had opted in Messenger to have their voice chats transcribed, the company said. The contractors were tasked with re-transcribing the conversations in order to gauge the accuracy of the automatic transcription tool.

“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian.

Massive Data Breach of Capital One

Wow.

The firm said in a statement released on Monday that the breach affected approximately 100 million individuals in the US and 6 million people in Canada.

The statement added that about 140,000 social security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers were compromised in the US.

In Canada, about one million social insurance numbers belonging to Capital One credit card customers were also compromised.

One Small Step

50 years ago, a man step foot on another celestial body for the first time in human existence. It was an amazing accomplishment and one for which we can all be proud. Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah.

Regulating Big Tech

Putting aside the outright lie about Google being impartial (that’s been proven wrong time and time again), the next question is, what do we do about it, if anything?

Karan Bhatia, Google’s policy chief who was at the hearing, denied the claims and said it would be bad for business if users didn’t trust the company to be impartial.

Bhatia also said Google had done all it could to remove offensive content on YouTube but the volume of videos being uploaded makes it difficult to police.

Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, told Bloomberg after the hearing that Section 230 was originally put in place to protect smaller tech companies in the 1990s rather than giants.

[…]

But Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said the investigation could easily generate a gratuitous and unhealthy level of government control.

‘Just because a business is big doesn’t mean it’s bad,’ Sensenbrenner said Tuesday. He argued that breaking up big companies could hurt smaller firms around the U.S. and might compound privacy problems.

Apollo 11 Launched 50 Years Ago Today

Time to indulge your inner space geek.

Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin into an initial Earth-orbit of 114 by 116 miles. An estimated 650 million people watched Armstrong’s televised image and heard his voice describe the event as he took “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969.

Two hours, 44 minutes and one-and-a-half revolutions after launch, the S-IVB stage reignited for a second burn of five minutes, 48 seconds, placing Apollo 11 into a translunar orbit. The command and service module, or CSM, Columbia separated from the stage, which included the spacecraft-lunar module adapter, or SLA, containing the lunar module, or LM, Eagle. After transposition and jettisoning of the SLA panels on the S-IVB stage, the CSM docked with the LM. The S-IVB stage separated and injected into heliocentric orbit four hours, 40 minutes into the flight.

Facebook Fined for Sharing Users’ Data Without Consent

Shocking… the Democrats voted to protect Big Tech.

US regulators have approved a record $5bn (£4bn) fine on Facebook to settle an investigation into data privacy violations, reports in US media say.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating allegations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained the data of up to 87 million Facebook users.

[…]

The FTC began investigating Facebook in March 2018, following reports that Cambridge Analytica had accessed the data of tens of millions of its users.

The investigation focused on whether Facebook had violated a 2011 agreement under which it was required to clearly notify users and gain “express consent” to share their data.

Anonymous sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that the $5bn fine was approved by the FTC in a 3-2 vote, which broke along party lines with Republican commissioners in favour and Democrats opposed.

Sources cited in other media also reported the same information.

 

I’m Listening

This should no longer be news. If you don’t know this already, you haven’t been paying attention.

Google acknowledged its contractors are able to listen to recordings of what people say to the company’s artificial-intelligence system, Google Assistant.

The company admitted on Thursday that humans can access recordings made by the Assistant, after some of its Dutch language recordings were leaked. Google is investigating the breach.

The recordings were obtained by the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, which reviewed more than 1,000 audio clips and found 153 had been captured accidentally.

Google Assistant begins automatically recording audio when prompted by a user, usually by saying a wake-up word or phrase like, “OK, Google”.

RIP Ross Perot

RIP

H Ross Perot was an American original. A self-made billionaire with a penchant for plain-speaking in his clipped north Texas twang, he built a reputation as a savvy technology entrepreneur and spent a small fortune helping US veterans and attempting to free American hostages abroad.

He was also a political harbinger.

His 1992 independent presidential bid – the most successful third-party candidacy in eight decades – exposed fault lines in the US political system that would some day result in electoral earthquakes. He capitalised on the thirst of American voters for an outsider who could disrupt two-party government and built a dedicated following with his populist, small-government, anti-trade, anti-globalist rhetoric.

Scooter Mania

In Wisconsin.

Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill Monday regulating electric scooters on roads and sidewalks.

Under the bipartisan measure, scooters must weigh less than 100 pounds and abide by a 15 mph speed limit. Local governments can prohibit use on sidewalks or streets with speed limits above 25 mph and restrict public rentals.

The law also exempts scooters from state vehicle registration requirements, though scooters must comply with lighting and braking requirements and scooter drivers must follow road rules.

In Copenhagen.

Danish police have arrested 28 people in Copenhagen for riding electric scooters while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Over the weekend 24 people were caught drink-driving scooters while four were intoxicated from recreational drugs.

The force announced the arrests on Twitter following a crackdown on the unsafe use of scooters in the Danish capital earlier this year.

Intoxicated drivers are liable for a 2,000 krone ($300; £235) fine.

I rode a couple of these while touring the Mall in D.C. a few weeks ago. It was a handy way to pack in the sights in less time. But they really do whip along and could do some real damage to the rider and other people.

Google’s Leftist Agenda Revealed

Again

A senior Google executive has been caught on an undercover video appearing to suggest the company is trying to stop ‘the next Trump situation’ in the 2020 presidential election.

Secret footage released by Project Veritas shows Google’s Head of Responsible Innovation, Jen Gennai, saying: ‘We all got screwed over in 2016, again it wasn’t just us, it was, the people got screwed over, the news media got screwed over, like, everybody got screwed over so we’ve rapidly been like, what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again.’

A company insider provided Project Veritas with documents outlining Google’s explanation of ‘Machine Learning Fairness’ and ‘algorithmic unfairness,’ which appear to expose a liberal bent at the online giant.

A document leaked by the alleged insider contained language about addressing ‘unjust or prejudicial treatment,’ saying that even when search results are factually accurate, ‘it may be desirable to consider how we might help society reach a more fair and equitable state, via either product intervention or broader corporate social responsibility efforts.’

So much for this blog showing up in Google searches.

Facebook Money

It’s an interesting plan and Facebook certainly has the wherewithal to try it. The greatest flaw I see is that Facebook is, perhaps, the least trusted company on the planet. They are continually getting caught lying and abusing their users. Currency is all about trust that the value tomorrow will be consistent or predictable – with acceptable variances. Who is going to trust a Facebook currency?

Facebook Inc. unveiled plans for a new cryptocurrency called Libra this week. When it launches in 2020 or later, it will be a stablecoin–a digital currency that doesn’t fluctuate much because it’s supported by established government-backed currencies and securities.

The world’s largest social media company published a 12-page white paperon Libra and has more than 20 partners for the project. But there are still many questions. After a week of analysis, here’s what Bloomberg reporters and editors know about Libra, along with key unknowns that remain:

Joe Weisenthal, executive editor: digital news at Bloomberg:

For sure: Libra is being touted as a cryptocurrency, so it’s natural to use existing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum as mental models for what it could be. But it’s probably better to think instead about traditional peer-to-peer payment networks. Whether you’re talking about PayPal, Venmo, Square, WeChat, or even Western Union, all of these networks are in some way layered on top of the traditional financial system in order to ease some type of transaction (e-commerce, check-splitting, remittances). The problem is that these networks aren’t interoperable, and in many cases the fees can be quite high. Like all these other networks, Libra will be layered on top of the existing financial system, since each coin will be backed by traditional money in the bank to support a stable price. Unlike these other networks, however, there is an opportunity to create payments unification on a global scale, and at potentially a much lower cost. And in theory, anyone will one be able to build payment applications on top of Libra. Some might focus on friends splitting the cost of dinner. Others might be focused on remittance payments to developing markets. In the most extremely successful version of Libra, it’s not so much a cryptocurrency, but a global operating system for moving fiat money around.

Public Records Must Be Provided in their Original Digital Format

Hurrah, hurrah.

A Wisconsin appeals court has affirmed that officials must provide copies of electronic records in their original format.

The decision, released Wednesday, upholds a lower court’s order requiring state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Wisconsin Rapids, to turn over electronic copies of emails requested by The Progressive magazine editor Bill Lueders.

Lueders, who is president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the decision represents “a major win for requesters in Wisconsin.”

You might remember that I have been pushing for this for years. I file open records requests from time to time and it frustrates the heck out of me when governments insist on printing emails to give to me. It’s wasteful and imposes undue expenses on the requester for no good reason. I’m glad to see the courts insisting that government abide by the state’s Open Record Laws.

Nobody Wants a Surveillance State

Agree

A rare show of bipartisan unity broke out in Washington Wednesday as Republicans and Democrats on the House Oversight Committee expressed concerns over the rapid spread of facial recognition software used by technology companies.

“I don’t want to see an authoritarian surveillance state, whether it’s run by a government or whether it’s run by five corporations,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in reference to Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook.

Drone Warning

Yikes.

‘Be cautious when purchasing [drone] technology from Chinese manufacturers as they can contain components that can compromise your data and share your information on a server accessed beyond the company itself,’ the advisory says.

The warning from U.S. DHS that’s titled ‘Chinese Manufactured Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ warns that sensitive flight data might be sent to their manufacturers in China, where it can be accessed by the government

DJI drones at the 3rd World Intelligence Congress, one of the most important hi-tech exhibitions in China showing the latest development and innovations in Intelligence technology, was held in Tianjin from May 16 to May 19

‘Organisations that conduct operations impacting national security or the Nation’s critical functions must remain especially vigilant as they may be at greater risk of espionage and theft of proprietary information,’ the alert also adds.

Nearly 80% of the drones used in the U.S. and Canada come from DJI, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, as reported by CNN.

Google Leans Left

We all know it, but just in case you didn’t… Google has a huge liberal bias. The next time you are looking for something, try the same search in multiple search engines and you’ll be surprised by the vastly different results you get.

Nearly all (86 percent) of the stories came from just 20 sources and of them, 62 percent were considered to be left-leaning.

The research sheds new light on the unprecedented power the search engine has in influencing the external traffic to news sites, a hot topic in the worlds of media and politics given Facebook’s recently reduced output.

For example, the researchers found that CNN got a 24 percent bump in traffic as a result of having its stories featured in the ‘Top Stories’ box.

The most featured sources, in order, were CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, BBC, USA Today, LA Times, The Guardian, Politico, ABC News, CBS News, NPR, NBC News, CNBC, Reuters, Huffington Post, The Verge, Al Jazeera, The Hill and People.

For some stories there was a shortage of sources but a search for Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, turfed up stories from 38 sources.

Despite the plethora of sources, 75 percent of the promoted stories about Tillerson came from The New York Times and CNN, the researchers found.