The snitch in your pocket: How Silicon Valley uses advertising tech to spy on your lockdown behavior

By: Russia Today

Police can’t catch everyone violating lockdown orders, but your smartphone can. Various apps give information to third parties who share it with other people who you may not want to trace you.

The US is split on how and when to lift lockdown measures. Georgia, for instance, has been reopening since last month, while the city of Los Angeles will likely force its citizens to stay at home until August, officials said on Tuesday.

Discontent with these measures has grown. Californians upset with their canceled summer have warned of the potential for riots, a warning that looks realistic after crowds of sun worshippers descended onto Orange County’s closed beaches earlier this month, in defiance of the armed police enforcing their closure. From Michigan to Massachusetts, protesters have picketed statehouses across the country, demanding their governors end the lockdown.

Amid the protests and debate, big tech is keeping a watchful eye on just how closely Americans are following the rules, and the media is watching too.

A New York Times report on Tuesday revealed that in both open and closed states, Americans are starting to venture further from their homes again. To arrive at this conclusion, the Times pored over the cellphone data of 15 million American citizens. Movement data gleaned from their smartphones was plotted against census data to calculate what percentage of people were wandering.

Implicit in the article was the shaming of those people leaving their homes. Citing “experts,” the Times noted that increased movement could lead to “additional waves in new coronavirus infections and deaths,” and reminded readers that “social distancing has proven one of the most effective means to curb the spread of the virus.”

If readers don’t remember giving the New York Times permission to track their movements, that’s because they didn’t. Rather, the data was provided by Cuebiq, an “offline intelligence and measurement company” that’s amassed a value of up to $162 million by gathering and selling cellphone data to advertisers.

Smartphone users didn’t offer this data directly to Cuebiq either. Instead, when a person installs one of around 180 mobile apps partnered up with the firm, they grant the app permission to send their data to Cuebiq. These apps include MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar, Photobucket, Tapatalk, and several popular coupon apps.

According to several reports by TechCrunch and the Guardian in 2018, these apps give “little to no mention” that sensitive data will be shared with third parties like Cuebiq.

Cuebiq’s website is a repository of Silicon Valley evangelism. Under its stated mission of “data for good,” the firm says that it provides access to location data “to the scientific community in order to share our insights and create positive action in the service of humanity.”

However, behind the humanitarian front, Cuebiq is first and foremost a money-making enterprise. Retailers, for instance, pay the firm to track the offline behavior of potential customers who’ve seen their ads. Corporations of all kinds pay to know which customers are likely to buy their products, based on their offline behavior.

Naturally, the idea that a hidden opt-in clause is all that prevents a person being analyzed, tracked, broken down into data points and sold, has raised privacy concerns. The New York Times even addressed these last month when tech writer Jennifer Valentino-DeVries discussed her use of Cuebiq’s data.

Valentino-DeVries waved away these concerns. Even though she admitted that this data is “intrusive” and far from “anonymous,” she argued that privacy is less important in the midst of a “public health crisis.” 

Readers, however, might disagree. Likewise, if corporations can use data gathered by firms like Cuebiq to predict consumer behavior as accurately as the firm boasts, it follows that such data should not be handed over to media outlets, and potentially state actors, without at least a public debate.

Still, as long as users continue to swipe through app permissions, these companies will continue to turn a buck at the expense of privacy.

Cubeiq is not the only firm to direct its data-gathering powers at the coronavirus issue. Norwegian startup Unacast, whose bread and butter is audience analysis, has launched an Orwellian-sounding ‘Social Distancing Scoreboard’ that rates every US state and county on how obediently its citizens are following the lockdown rules.

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‘Gigantes de vigilancia’ Facebook y Google ‘amenazan los derechos humanos’ con la captura de datos – Amnistía

Por: RT

Los titanes de la tecnología Google y Facebook emplean «modelos comerciales basados ​​en la vigilancia» que amenazan los derechos humanos y erosionan la privacidad en todo el mundo, dijo Amnistía Internacional en un nuevo informe, pidiendo el fin de la captura de datos.

Publicado el miércoles, el informe «Surveillance Giants» de Amnistía describe cómo Facebook y Google, y sus muchas plataformas afiliadas, operan de manera simplemente incompatible con el derecho a la privacidad y representan una «amenaza sistémica» para la libre expresión en Internet.

«A pesar del valor real de los servicios que brindan, las plataformas de Google y Facebook tienen un costo sistémico» , dice el informe.

El modelo comercial basado en la vigilancia de las empresas obliga a las personas a hacer un trato faustiano, por el cual solo pueden disfrutar de sus derechos humanos en línea al someterse a un sistema basado en el abuso de los derechos humanos.

Mientras que otras grandes empresas de tecnología también han obtenido un poder significativo en otras áreas del panorama de Internet, Amnistía destacó a Facebook y Google por su creciente dominio sobre la «nueva plaza pública global», controlando los principales canales que los internautas de todo el mundo utilizan para comunicarse, realizar transacciones y «realizar sus derechos en línea».

«Google y Facebook dominan nuestras vidas modernas, acumulando un poder incomparable sobre el mundo digital al cosechar y monetizar los datos personales de miles de millones de personas», dijo el secretario general de Amnistía, Kumi Naidoo, en un comunicado de prensa .

O bien debemos someternos a esta maquinaria de vigilancia generalizada, donde nuestros datos son fácilmente armados para manipularnos e influenciarnos, o renunciar a los beneficios del mundo digital.

En el futuro, Naidoo pidió una «revisión radical de la forma en que opera Big Tech» y crear una Internet que ponga los derechos humanos al frente y al centro.

El informe de Amnistía solo ha confirmado lo que durante mucho tiempo ha sido un secreto mal guardado, ya que ambos gigantes tecnológicos han sido atrapados con las manos en la masa innumerables veces.

La semana pasada, un informe en el Wall Street Journal reveló que Google se asoció con el proveedor de atención médica Ascension para recopilar y almacenar en secreto registros médicos de millones de pacientes en 21 estados, todo después de que la compañía no logró convencer a los clientes de que entreguen sus datos médicos voluntariamente a través de su Empresa de Google Health, que se retiró en 2011 por falta de participación.

Además de la incapacidad de mantener los datos almacenados a salvo de piratas informáticos e infracciones, Facebook también ha sido criticado por la forma en que comparte datos con otras compañías, siendo investigado a principios de este año por más de 150 asociaciones potencialmente ilegales que permitieron el acceso a otras empresas de tecnología. información sobre los usuarios de Facebook, incluso cuando deshabilitaron todos los datos compartidos en su cuenta.

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Show me your face: Google Nest Hub surveillance system lets you bring Big Brother home with you

By: Russia Today

Google’s Nest Hub surveillance system is constantly looking for its owner’s face and technically can’t be shut off, raising privacy concerns and questions about data misuse by the company that brags it toes the “creepy line.”

The latest “smart-home” device from Mountain View comes equipped with a constantly-scanning facial-recognition-enabled camera that can’t be shut off, only ‘disabled’ with a switch that also (supposedly) deactivates the microphone. Just as the device is constantly listening for its “wake word,” it is prepared to leap into action at the sight of its owner’s visage.

The Nest Hub, as its name suggests, serves as a “hub” for other internet-of-things devices like thermostats, surveillance cameras, and doorbells – which also come equipped with facial recognition, in case the user misses that feeling of being constantly spied on when they finally come home after a long day of surveillance outside. It also uploads video from phone calls and camera footage accessed remotely into the cloud and provides a window into your home for anyone with access to your Google or Nest account.

Surely Google learned its lesson after its Google Home AI voice assistant was discovered to be feeding audio of users’ private moments to third-party contractors for “grading” purposes. The company couldn’t possibly make the mistake of allowing that scandal to repeat itself, this time with video.

Google admits it may “use your face data to test future features and recognition algorithms before pushing them to your device,” CNET reported on Monday, citing a statement from the company, which also claimed “no pixels leave the Nest Hub Max” – except when they’re “temporarily processed at Google from time to time to improve the quality of your experience with this device.”

Google will “occasionally use the images you provide during setup to generate a face model in the cloud for a couple of reasons” related to “improving product experience” and “motivated by the fact that we have more computing power available in the cloud,” a company spokesperson told the outlet.

The doublespeak echoes excuses Google made for sharing Home audio snippets, like claiming the use of “language experts” was “necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant.” Unlike Google Home, which neglected to inform the users of that key fact until after it was discovered by a Belgian broadcaster, Nest Hub informs users they’re being surveilled and tracked right up front, when they set up “Face Match.”

A home surveillance system with facial recognition capabilities, capable of detecting the user’s emotions and remotely accessible – what could possibly go wrong? If nothing else, it should inspire a generation of horror filmmakers.

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Ecuador cuts off RT Spanish broadcast without explanation following minister’s complaint about protest coverage

South America/Ecuador/17-11-2019/Author and Source:

Ecuador’s public television provider, the National Telecommunications Corporation, has cut off its broadcast of RT Spanish. The move comes weeks after Ecuador’s interior minister complained about RT covering local protests.

The broadcast was cut off on Thursday without any prior notice or explanation. The NTC’s only comment was to tell its customers that the channel 778, which was the one carrying RT Spanish, is not included in the package anymore, and offer three sports channels instead.

RT has still not received any comment from the NTC and its reasons remain unclear. Last month, Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo blamed RT for the increased level of “violence” President Lenin Moreno faced in the media field during the massive protests that gripped the Latin American nation.

Romo slammed the “attacks in social media” that allegedly targeted Moreno, adding that he faced almost the same level of hatred in the media as in the streets. She also spoke about large amounts of “false information” in the media field, and singled out “a public channel of the Russian government” for broadcasting live the protests that had been raging in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito for almost two weeks and made some parts of the city look like a war zone.

The minister called RT’s coverage “striking”, but admitted that the channel did cover “everything that was happening in the streets.”

Despite the minister’s close attention to RT’s line of work, the channel was far from alone in covering the biggest protests in the last 15 years of Ecuador’s history. The likes of Spanish EFE, El País, La Vanguardia alongside with Columbia’s El Tiempo and Argentinian Infobae were broadcasting the demonstrations live as well.

The protests were sparked by Moreno’s government austerity decree that canceled fuel subsidies. The IMF-approved measure particularly drew the ire of indigenous communities, who led the protests.

Riots that saw protesters storming government buildings even forced Moreno out of the capital for a short while and eventually made the government scrap the controversial measure. Meanwhile, Moreno directly accused his predecessor Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an attempt to “destabilize” his country.

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Mind-reading AI may spell end to humanity as we know it, but not because it will enslave us – Zizek

By: Russia Today

Technologies linking human consciousness to any sort of a cloud computing service could not just open the way for totalitarian mind control, but destroy the very essence of human relations, philosopher Slavoj Zizek says.

A computer that can read the thoughts of many people at once would make normal human life impossible, the Slovenian cultural philosopher told RT in the wake of the World Artificial Intelligence (AI) Conference in Shanghai, which saw Alibaba’s chairman Jack Ma and Tesla CEO Elon Musk clashing over the future of AI.



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While the two technopreneurs engaged in a heated discussion over the possibility of humans being controlled by machines in the future, the senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana shared his thoughts on the issue with RT.

Our brain being connected to a machine is not a utopia

What I am studying now is the so-called phenomenon of wired brains, a possibility of our brains being connected with strong digital machines. And that is not a utopia. In the media lab at MIT, Massachusetts, they already have simple machines like that. It is like a helmet, nothing intrusive, they put it on your head.

And then something horrible happens – I saw the video – you think certain thoughts, you do not say anything, and the machine reproduces them either in writing or with artificial voice.

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The primitive level machines can already read your thoughts. It is ok, if it involves your agreement but what if it is done (and it is easy to imagine that) without you knowing it?

Now, there is a serious option to read our thoughts, not just our emotional attitudes like being angry or sad but even the line of our thoughts in our mind. The next step in this “utopia” will be a computer that can read my thoughts and your thoughts that can connect us so that we can share our thoughts. If you and I are connected through the same computer, I can literally participate in your thinking directly without any external communication like word typing.

As you probably know, modern technology theorists Ray Kurzweil and Melanie Swan called it a new form of divinity.

It will no longer be a transcendent God but all of us sharing our thoughts through some AI cloud system. Millions of people will be participating together in a new form of awareness. I find this prospect pretty horrifying.

We are entering a post-human era if computers can identify & share a person’s thoughts

We as human beings are precisely what we are, free individuals as far as we can be sure that you do not know what I am thinking. I think what I think, I am free in my mind. What happens if I cannot be sure even of this?

If I think about something and computer can identify what I am thinking and then share it with others, we are really entering a post-human era. I believe that we should not be just fascinated about what it means technologically.

Do you not agree that we should worry about who will control these digital machines?

I do not have fears about the machines controlling us. We are not there yet. However, who will control this, who will use this? What remains of our freedom? Private companies, like Google or Facebook, are already developing similar technologies.

Thought ‘transparency’ is biggest threat to our freedom today

I see it as the biggest threat to our freedom. We will literally become transparent. Let’s think about the everyday consequences of this. All flirting will be out. I meet someone and instead of all the lovely games of erotic hints she can read ‘I want to go to bed with you’ and the eroticism will disappear.

Another simple example is everyday politeness. Let’s say we know each other but we are not mega-close friends. I see you on the street and say the usual polite things like: “hello, how are you? I am glad to meet you.” But if you can read my mind this is nonsense because this is politeness and I do not mean it. Usually, I do not care how you feel.

This intrigues me very much. What is happening? How will it affect our everyday manners, our old civilization social inventions? All our cultivated interactions are based on this.

There is another thing.

What new way of suffering and torture can be developed in this way? Can you even imagine someone controlling your mind? What can they do to you? What horrible thoughts can I implant into your mind? There might be images [of] your nearest terribly tortured, and so on.

I know this is not a joke. It is a very serious thing.

Lying will become more complicated and more privileged

If we imagine this happening in a society where economic and power relations are structured the way they are now, I think, this will mean that the privileged ones will be those who will be able to conceal their minds, who will exclude themselves from this network.

Not everybody will be controlled in the same way. That’s the first problem, who will control the game and who will be excommunicated?

It is always like this. The first thought when a new spying device is developed usually is ‘how can I escape it?’ The privilege is to be outside of it. Lying will become more complicated but it will also become more privileged.



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Computers are smarter on mechanical level, but lack the ability to simplify

An idea of AI beating humans in the field of intellect in fact depends on how you define being smart. If by smart you simply mean a more complex mathematical or logical operation as well as knowing more data, computers are definitely smarter. Yet, there is still hope for us.

The greatness of [the] human mind is not in knowing all the details but in picking out from the multitude of data to catch the essence and simplify it.

A book by a Soviet psychologist Aleksandr Luria titled ‘The Mind of a Mnemonist’ describes a guy with perfect memory. He remembered almost everything that he read and saw. The psychological consequences of this were horrible because he knew so much [that] he could not decide anything, the moment he wanted to take a decision, hundreds of other data popped up in his mind. He lacked the great ability of simplification.

Computers can be smarter than us on some mechanical level – and even in learning – but I do not think they can deal with the phenomenon of simplification.

Robots will not take menial jobs, they will be tasked with planning

Today’s paradox is that we are afraid of robots that could supposedly take our jobs, but those of us who work, work more than ever. Second, we still have the idea that robots will do the primitive work for us and we will just plan what they are doing. In many companies, from McDonald’s to those which do day services, it is robots that do the planning and individuals that execute it.

In McDonald’s everything is programmed by robots and ‘stupid’ people just serve other people. It eventually depends on the social order, if we remain in the same capitalist order, in which we are, it will be even worse than today.

There is a possibility, a hope, that we will work less. Yet, many new stupid forms of amusement might fill our free time. I still believe in work and creativity. If we do not have enough things to do, even if we will feel happy just sitting, watching films and drinking, it will be a very stupid existence. It will soon get dire.

It is not technology as such, it is how we will use technology socially.

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