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Kushner’s Digital Armies and Facebook’s .1%

Back in May, I called attention to NYT’s mention of the importance of Jared Kushner’s successful reversal of his father-in-law’s digital targeting to cement their relationship.

Amid its larger narrative that Kushner and Trump actually haven’t been that close all that long, the NYT also reminds that Kushner got a lot of credit from his father-in-law for reviving the digital aspect of the campaign.

Mr. Kushner’s reported feeler to the Russians even as President Barack Obama remained in charge of American foreign policy was a trademark move by someone with a deep confidence in his abilities that critics say borders on conceit, people close to him said. And it echoes his history of sailing forth into unknown territory, including buying a newspaper at age 25 and developing a data-analytics program that he has said helped deliver the presidency to his father-in-law.

[snip]

Despite the perception that he is the one untouchable adviser in the president’s inner circle, Mr. Kushner was not especially close to his father-in-law before the 2016 campaign. The two bonded when Mr. Kushner helped to take over the campaign’s faltering digital operation and to sell a reluctant Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox News’s parent company, on the viability of his father-in-law’s candidacy by showing him videos of Mr. Trump’s rally during a lunch at Fox headquarters in mid-2015.

There lots of reasons to look askance at Trump’s data program, even before you consider that it was so central in a year where Trump’s opponent got hacked. So I find it notable (which is where I’ll leave it, for now) that Kushner’s role in the digital side of the campaign was so central to his perceived closeness to Trump.

McClatchy reports that the Congressional investigation committees are looking into my suspicions: that Kushner’s digital targeting may have been assisted by Russian obtained data (though I hope someone considers whether Russians also hacked Hillary’s analytics programs, blinding her to problems in places like MI).

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

I’m glad they are doing this, but I’m a bit troubled by the belief (based in part on what I consider unproven analysis that Congress has already mainlined) that all the trolls and bots were Russian.

By Election Day, an automated Kremlin cyberattack of unprecedented scale and sophistication had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters. Some investigators suspect the Russians targeted voters in swing states, even in key precincts.

Russia’s operation used computer commands knowns as “bots” to collect and dramatically heighten the reach of negative or fabricated news about Clinton, including a story in the final days of the campaign accusing her of running a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria.

One source familiar with Justice’s criminal probe said investigators doubt Russian operatives controlling the so-called robotic cyber commands that fetched and distributed fake news stories could have independently “known where to specifically target … to which high-impact states and districts in those states.”

I say this for two reasons. First, because a lot of it was self-evidently coming from 4Chan. 4Chan would (and I suspect has been) willfully manipulated by Russians or their agents, but a lot of the actual activity was American.

And that instinct is backed by an entity that has far better data than the researchers Congress has heard from (publicly at least): Facebook. Facebook, which was ground zero for the sharing of fake stories during the campaign, maintains that just .1% of the “civic content” on Facebook during the campaign was malicious propaganda.

In a fascinating report on the use of the social media platform for Information Operations released yesterday, Facebook make a startling claim. Less than .1% of what got shared during the election was shared by accounts set up to engage in malicious propaganda.

Concurrently, a separate set of malicious actors engaged in false amplification using inauthentic Facebook accounts to push narratives and themes that reinforced or expanded on some of the topics exposed from stolen data. Facebook conducted research into overall civic engagement during this time on the platform, and determined that the reach of the content shared by false amplifiers was marginal compared to the overall volume of civic content shared during the US election.12

In short, while we acknowledge the ongoing challenge of monitoring and guarding against information operations, the reach of known operations during the US election of 2016 was statistically very small compared to overall engagement on political issues.

12 To estimate magnitude, we compiled a cross functional team of engineers, analysts, and data scientists to examine posts that were classified as related to civic engagement between September and December 2016. We compared that data with data derived from the behavior of accounts we believe to be related to Information Operations. The reach of the content spread by these accounts was less than one-tenth of a percent of the total reach of civic content on Facebook.

And they say this in a report that also coyly confirms they’ve got data confirming Russia’s role in the election.

But in the US election section, the report includes a coy passage stating that it cannot definitively attribute who sponsored the false amplification, even while it states that its data does not contradict the Intelligence Community’s attribution of the effort to Russian intelligence.

Facebook is not in a position to make definitive attribution to the actors sponsoring this activity. It is important to emphasize that this example case comprises only a subset of overall activities tracked and addressed by our organization during this time period; however our data does not contradict the attribution provided by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in the report dated January 6, 2017.

That presents the possibility (one that is quite likely) that Facebook has far more specific forensic data on the .1% of accounts it deems malicious amplifiers that it coyly suggests it knows to be Russian intelligence. Note, too, that the report is quite clear that this is human-driven activity, not bot-driven.

All of which is my way of saying the Committees really ought to bring in Facebook’s engineers (in closed session so Facebook doesn’t freak customers out over the kinds of analytics it can do), to understand what this .1% really means, as well as to have a sense of how the .1% interacted with the far larger group of people spreading fake stories.

As I say over and over, some of this is definitely Russian. But the underlying activities — the ratfucking being led by people who were ratfucking while Putin was still in law school — are also things Republicans do and have been doing for decades.

Let’s understand if Kushner served as a pivot between data stolen by Russians and fake news targeted at Michigan (among other states). But let’s be clear that some of the trolling was done by red-blooded Americans.

The Blame the Media Movement

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-10-10-55-amThere was an odd moment yesterday on Twitter when a bunch of people were RTing screen caps of NYT’s front page the day after Jim Comey’s October 28 letter, blaming the media for Hillary’s loss.

I think the idea behind their complaints is that because the media — as embodied by the NYT — spent so much time focusing on Hillary’s emails, she lost.

I agree that “the media’s” focus on Hillary’s email contributed significantly to the loss. But the way in which people were complaining about it betrays a lack of understanding of the problem.

First, consider what they were complaining about. The NYT’s print edition had a topline story that “New emails jolt Clinton campaign in race’s last days.” That is almost exactly the Hillary camp’s preferred explanation for why they lost, that the Comey announcement roiled her campaign right at the end. The NYT also focused on Comey’s inappropriate behavior. And also reported what Trump said about the emails — again, reporting what the opposing candidate actually said.

Here’s how Media Matters — which because of close ties between the campaign and the organization, should be considered a house organ for the campaign — dealt with this treatment in real time.

Over the past two days, The New York Times has devoted five of its six above-the-fold articles to FBI director James Comey’s letter to congressional leaders indicating that the Bureau is reviewing additional “emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state. By providing such prominent coverage, the Times has indicated that the letter is news of the highest possible significance — in spite of the Times’ own reporting that FBI agents have yet to read the emails and determine if they are significant and the letter “did not reopen” the investigation.

In his October 28 letter, Comey wrote that the FBI has “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” while investigating an unrelated case and is taking “appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” He added that the “FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete.”

Despite the paucity of information Comey indicated was available, the letter triggered a firestorm of speculative media coverage.

The Times, which has both a responsibility as the leading national newspaper to put the story in appropriate context, and a long history of applying excessive and disproportionate scrutiny to news about Bill and Hillary Clinton, led the media’s feeding frenzy.

On Saturday, the entirety of the Times’ front page above the fold was dedicated to three separate articles about Comey’s letter. The lead story declared, “New Emails Jolt Clinton Campaign In Race’s Last Days; FBI Looks at Messages Found During Inquiry.” But as that article noted, it is not clear whether the emails are “new” or duplicates of emails previously reviewed by the FBI; the FBI “had not yet examined” the emails.

The front page also featured articles on Trump’s response to the news and on Republican and Democratic lawmakers’ criticism of Comey in light of the letter.

The Times front page drew criticism for providing such prominent coverage before it was clear whether the emails in question were even relevant to the investigation.

The MM piece does raise two absolutely fair content complaints: that the NYT said FBI “reopened” the investigation (though I’m not sure the distinction is as important as they make out, especially since the FBI had at least one other open investigation during this period), and that the headline said the emails were new when that was not yet clear.

Fair points. But.

MM is also absolutely obsessed with the way NYT has emphasized this on their front page. You know? A dead tree front page? Not just any dead tree, but the NYT’s dead tree?

Of the 100,000 or so people who decided this election, how many of them get their news from the NYT, much less the dead tree version of the NYT? In both the rural and urban areas where Hillary lost MI, you’d have to go to a store, and even then the Sunday Times might be the only thing you could get in dead tree form in timely fashion. I’m sure it’s easier to get the dead tree NYT in Philly, but not in Erie, PA, two other places where Hillary lost this election. So while the NYT’s coverage surely matters, its relative placement on the dead tree is not the thing you should focus on.

You want to track what caused the undue influence of the Comey letter on the election? A far better place to focus is on Bret Baier’s claim, a few days later, that two sources had told him with 99% certainty that Hillary was going to be indicted. MM did cover that, for several days straight, including showing that Fox kept reporting on the claim even after Baier retracted it.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-11-27-51-am

But that’s not the other thing you need to track.

Obviously, you need to track Breitbart, the Steve Bannon site that legitimized white supremacy.

Particularly given that the rural areas where Hillary underperformed have often lost their local press (which might otherwise have exposed them to the AP version) you also need to account for social media. It would be bad enough if that consisted solely of people consuming the conspiracy theories their buddies pass on. But, as has increasingly been discussed both during and since the election, those have been hijacked.

On both, people — even some without any stake in the election, such as kids in Macedonia — created false claims to generate clicks to make money.

“This is the news of the millennium!” said the story on WorldPoliticus.com. Citing unnamed FBI sources, it claimed Hillary Clinton will be indicted in 2017 for crimes related to her email scandal.

“Your Prayers Have Been Answered,” declared the headline.

For Trump supporters, that certainly seemed to be the case. They helped the baseless story generate over 140,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Meanwhile, roughly 6,000 miles away in a small town in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a young man watched as money began trickling into his Google AdSense account.

[snip]

Most of the posts on these sites are aggregated, or completely plagiarized, from fringe and right-wing sites in the US. The Macedonians see a story elsewhere, write a sensationalized headline, and quickly post it to their site. Then they share it on Facebook to try and generate traffic. The more people who click through from Facebook, the more money they earn from ads on their website.

Earlier in the year, some in Veles experimented with left-leaning or pro–Bernie Sanders content, but nothing performed as well on Facebook as Trump content.

“People in America prefer to read news about Trump,” said a Macedonian 16-year-old who operates BVANews.com.

BuzzFeed News’ research also found that the most successful stories from these sites were nearly all false or misleading.

Far more troublingly, Facebook’s algorithm that influences what news people see not only doesn’t sort out fake news, but they purposely avoided fixing the problem during the election because that would have disproportionately affected conservative “news.”

[I]t’s hard to visit Facebook without seeing phony headlines like “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” or “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” promoted by no-name news sites like the Denver Guardian and Ending The Fed.

Gizmodo has learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US. The debate includes questions over whether the social network has a duty to prevent misinformation from spreading to the 44 percent of Americans who get their news from the social network.

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public.

It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.

“They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous citing fear of retribution from the company. The source added, “there was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics,” and that “a lot of product decisions got caught up in that.”

A similar effect is happening as we speak, spreading the false claim that Trump won the popular vote.

We actually don’t know what the media diet of the average person who normally would have voted Democratic is — I sincerely hope it’s something we get a handle on. But we need to understand that we would be lucky if the dead tree NYT is what we need to worry about.

And given that Trump is likely to overturn net neutrality, it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Update: Fixed the Buzzfeed blockquote.

Monday: A Border Too Far

In this roundup: Turkey, pipelines, and a border not meant to be crossed.

It’s nearly the end of the final Monday of 2016’s General Election campaign season. This shit show is nearly over. Thank every greater power in the universe we made it this far through these cumulative horrors.

Speaking of horrors, this Monday’s movie short is just that — a simple horror film, complete with plenty of bloody gritty gore. Rating on it is mature, not for any adult content but for its violence. The film is about illegal immigrants who want more from life, but it plays with the concepts of alien identity and zombie-ism. Who are the illegals, the aliens, the zombies? What is the nature of the predator and their prey? Does a rational explanation for the existence of the monstrous legitimize the horror they perpetuate in any way?

The logline for this film includes an even shorter tag line: Some borders aren’t meant to be crossed. This is worth meditating on after the horrors we’ve seen this past six months. Immigrants and refugees aren’t the monsters. And women aren’t feeble creatures to be marginalized and counted out.

Should also point out this film’s production team is mostly Latin American. This is the near-future of American storytelling and film. I can’t wait for more.

Tough Turkey
The situation in Turkey is extremely challenging, requiring diplomacy a certain Cheeto-headed candidate is not up to handling and will screw up if he places his own interests ahead of that of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  • Luxembourg’s foreign minister compares Erdoğan’s purge to Nazi Germany (Deutsche Welle) — Yeah, I can’t argue with this when a political party representing an ethnic minority and a group sharing religious dogma are targeted for removal from jobs, arrest and detention.
  • Op-Ed: Erdoğan targeting critics of all kinds (Guardian) — Yup. Media, judges, teachers, persons of Kurdish heritage or Gulenist religious bent, secularists, you name it. Power consolidation in progress. Democracy, my left foot.
  • HDP boycotts Turkish parliament after the arrest of its leaders (BBC) — Erdoğan claimed the arrested HDP leaders were in cahoot with the PKK, a Kurdish group identified as a terrorist organization. You’ll recall HDP represents much of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. But Erdoğan also said he doesn’t care if the EU calls him a dictator; he said the EU abets terrorism. Sure. Tell the cities of Paris and Brussels that one. Think Erdoğan has been taking notes from Trump.
  • U.S. and Turkish military leaders meet to work out Kurd-led ops against ISIS (Guardian) — Awkward. Turkish military officials were still tetchy about an arrangement in which Kurdish forces would act against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, about 100 miles east of Aleppo. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia — the Kurdish forces — will work in concert with Arab members of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition in Raqqa to remove ISIS. Initial blame aimed at the PKK for a car bomb after HDP members were arrested heightened existing tensions between Erdoğan loyalists and the Kurds, though ISIS later took responsibility for the deadly blast. Depending on whose take one reads, the Arab part of SDF will lead the effort versus any Kurdish forces. Turkey attacked YPG forces back in August while YPG and Turkey were both supposed to be routing ISIS.

In the background behind Erdoğan’s moves to consolidate power under the Turkish presidency and the fight to eliminate ISIS from Syria and neighboring territory, there is a struggle for control of oil and gas moving through or by Turkey.

Russia lost considerable revenue after oil prices crashed in 2014. A weak ruble has helped but to replace lost revenue based on oil’s price, Russia has increased output to record levels. Increase supply only reduces price, especially when Saudi Arabia, OPEC producers, and Iran cannot agree upon and implement a production limit. If Russia will not likewise agree to production curbs, oil prices will remain low and Russia’s revenues will continue to flag.

Increasing pipelines for both oil and gas could bolster revenues, however. Russia can literally throttle supply near its end of hydrocarbon pipelines and force buyers in the EU and everywhere in between to pay higher rates — the history of Ukrainian-Russian pipeline disputes demonstrates this strategy. Bypassing Ukraine altogether would help Russia avoid both established rates and conflict there with the west. The opportunities encourage Putin to deal with Erdoğan, renormalizing relations after Turkey shot down a Russian jet last November. Russia and Turkey had met in summer of 2015 to discuss a new gas pipeline; they’ve now met again in August and in October to return to plans for funding the same pipeline.

A previous pipeline ‘war’ between Russia and the west ended in late 2014. This conflict may only have been paused, though. Between Russia’s pressure to sell more hydrocarbons to the EU, threats to pipelines from PKK-attributed terrorism and ISIS warfare near Turkey’s southwestern border, and implications that Erdoğan has been involved in ISIS’ sales of oil to the EU, Erdoğan may be willing to drop pursuit of EU membership to gain more internal control and profit from Russia’s desire for more hydrocarbon revenues. In the middle of all this mess, Erdoğan has expressed a desire to reinstate the death penalty for alleged coup plotters and dissenters — a border too far for EU membership since death penalty is not permitted by EU law.

This situation requires far more diplomatic skill than certain presidential candidates will be able to muster. Certainly not from a candidate who doesn’t know what Aleppo is, and certainly not from a candidate who thinks he is the only solution to every problem.

Cybery miscellany

That’s it for now. I’ll put up an open thread dedicated to all things election in the morning. Brace yourselves.

Wednesday: Time Travel

In this roundup: A short film about a mother’s time travel adventure, the Internet of Stupid Things, and more.

Read more

Wednesday: Wandering

All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost.

— excerpt, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

It’s a lovely summer day here, cool and dry. Perfect to go walkabout, which I will do straight away after this post.

Hackety-hack-hack, Jack

  • Spearphishing method used on HRC and DNC revealed by security firm (SecureWorks) — Here’s their report, but read this Twitter thread if you don’t think you can handle the more detailed version. In short, best practice: DON’T CLICK ON SHORTENED LINKS using services like Bitly, which mask the underlying URL.
  • Researchers show speakerless computers can be hacked by listening to fans (arXiv.org) — Air-gapping a computer may not be enough if hackers can listen to fan operation to obtain information. I’ll have to check, but this may be the second such study.
  • Another massive U.S. voter database breached (Naked Security) — This time 154 million voters’ data exposed, revealing all manner of details. 154M is larger than the number of voters in the 2012 general election, though smaller than the 191M voters’ records breached in December. At least this time the database owner slammed the breach shut once they were notified of the hole by researcher Chris Vickery. Nobody’s fessed up to owning the database involved in the the December breach yet.
  • Speaking of Vickery: Terrorism databased leaked (Reddit) — Thomson-Reuters’ database used by governments and banks to identify and monitor terrorism suspects was leaked (left open?) by a third party. Vickery contacted Thomson-Reuters which responded promptly and closed the leak. Maybe some folks need to put Vickery on retainer…
  • Different kind of hack: Trump campaign hitting up overseas MPs for cash? Or is he? (Scotsman) — There are reports that Trump’s campaign sent fundraising emails received by elected representatives in the UK and Iceland. Based on what we know now about the spearphishing of HRC and DNC, has anybody thought to do forensics on these emails, especially since government officials are so willing to share them widely? Using these kinds of emails would be a particularly productive method to spearphish government and media at the same time, as well as map relationships. Oh, and sow dissension inside the Trump family, urm, campaign. On the other hand, lack of response from Trump and team suggests it’s all Trump.

Makers making, takers taking

  • Apple granted a patent to block photo-taking (9to5Mac) — The technology relies on detecting infrared signals emitted when cameras are used. There’s another use for the technology: content can be triggered to play when infrared signal is detected.
  • Government suppressing inventions as military secrets (Bloomberg) — There’s merit to this, preventing development of products which may undermine national security. But like bug bounties, it might be worth paying folks who identify methods to breach security; it’s a lot cheaper than an actual breach, and a bargain compared to research detecting the same.
  • Google wants to make its own smartphone (Telegraph-UK) — This is an effort apart from development of the modular Ara device, and an odd move after ditching Motorola. Some tech industry folks say this doesn’t make sense. IMO, there’s one big reason why it’d be worth building a new smartphone from the ground up: security. Google can’t buy an existing manufacturer without a security risk.
  • Phonemaker ZTE’s spanking for Iran sanction violations deferred (Reuters) — This seems kind of odd; U.S. Commerce department agreed to a reprieve if ZTE cooperated with the government. But then think about the issue of security in phone manufacturing and it makes some sense.

A-brisket, a Brexit

  • EU health commissioner Andriukaitis’ response to Nigel Farage’s insulting remarks (European Commission) — Farage prefaced his speech to European Commissioners yesterday by saying “Most of you have never done a proper day’s work in your life.” Nice way to win friends and influence people, huh? Dr. Vytenis Andriukaitis is kinder than racist wanker Farage deserves.
  • Analysis of next couple years post-Brexit (Twitter) — Alex White, Director of Country Analysis at the Economist Intelligence Unit, offers what he says is “a moderate/constructive call” with “Risks definitely to the downside not to the upside.” It’s very ugly, hate to see what a more extreme view would look like. A pity so many Leave voters will never read him.

Follow-up: Facebook effery
Looks like Facebook’s thrown in the towel on users’ privacy altogether, opening personal profiles in a way that precludes anonymous browsing. Makes the flip-flop on users’ location look even more sketchy. (I can’t tell you anymore about this from personal experience because I gave up on Facebook several years ago.)

Happy hump day!

Facebook’s Flip-Flop: Is It a Law Enforcement Thing?

Kash Hill has a fascinating story about a Facebook flip-flop over a story she reported yesterday.

It started when — as increasingly happens in her work — someone came to her with a scary problem. Facebook recommended he friend someone he had only just met for the first time at a meeting for parents of suicidal teens. In response, Facebook confirmed they do use co-location for such recommendations.

Last week, I met a man who was concerned that Facebook has used his smartphone location to figure out people he might know. After he attended a gathering for suicidal teens, Facebook recommended one of the other parents there as a friend, even though they seemingly had nothing else in common but being in the same place at the same time. He asked me whether Facebook was using location to figure out if people knew each other.

I was skeptical, because that seemed like such an egregious violation of privacy. On Friday, I emailed Facebook:

A Facebook user told me that he attended an event last week with people he’d never met before. The next morning, one of the people at the event came up as a suggested friend. They had no other ties beyond being in the same room the night before. Could their shared location have resulted in the suggestion?

A spokesperson responded, saying that location is one of the signals for “People You May Know.”

But then, as people started making a stink about this, Facebook reached out again and offered this oblique reversal.

Thus I reported that “Facebook is using your phone’s location to suggest new friends—which could be a privacy disaster.” The story garnered lots of negative feedback, with people upset about Facebook using their location information this way without telling them.

Then, on Monday night, the Facebook spokesperson reached out again, saying the company had dug into the matter and found that location isn’t currently used. She sent an updated statement:

“We’re not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know. We may show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you are part of, contacts you’ve imported and other factors.”

One part of this comment is easy: Facebook is not using locations you mark for yourself (so if I said I was in Grand Rapids, they wouldn’t use that to find new Grand Rapids friends for me). But it’s not really clear what they mean by “device location.” Determined by what? GPS? Cell tower? IP location? Wifi hotspot colocation?

Which got me thinking about the way that federal law enforcement (in both the criminal and FISA context, apparently) are obtaining location data from social media as a way to tie physical location to social media activity.

[Magistrate Stephen Smith] explained he had had several hybrid pen/trap/2703(d) requests for location and other data targeting WhatsApp accounts. And he had one fugitive probation violation case where the government asked for the location data of those in contact with the fugitive’s Snapchat account, based on the logic that he might be hiding out with one of the people who had interacted with him on Snapchat. The providers would basically be asked to to turn over the cell site location information they had obtained from the users’ phone along with other metadata about those interactions. To be clear, this is not location data the app provider generates, it would be the location data the phone company generates, which the app accesses in the normal course of operation.

Doing so with Facebook would be particularly valuable, as you could target an event (say, a meeting of sovereign citizens) and find out who had attended the meeting to see whose location showed up there. The application would be even more useful with PRISM, because if you were targeting meetings overseas, you wouldn’t need to worry about the law on location data.

In other words, I started wondering whether Facebook is using this application — and was perfectly willing to tell Hill about it — until the FBI or someone started complaining that people would figure out one of their favorite new law enforcement (and intelligence) methods.

Hill is still pressing Facebook for real answers (and noted that Facebook may be violating FTC rules if they are doing this, so expects answers from there if not from Facebook directly).

Still, I’m wondering if FBI is now telling our private spy companies they can’t reveal the techniques law enforcement most likes to rely on.

Wednesday: Get Bach

Summer bug laid me up. I’m indulging in the audio equivalent of tea with honey, lemon, and a shot of something to scare away the bug. A little cello playing by Yo-Yo Ma never fails to make me feel better.

This sweet video is enlightening, didn’t realize Ma had an older sister who was an accomplished musician at a tender age. Worthwhile to watch this week considering the blizzard of arguments about immigrants and refugees here and abroad.

And then for good measure, a second favorite added in the mix — Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman together, performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto Fantasy.

There. I feel a little better already.

Probably better than frustrated House Democrats led by Rep. John Lewis who are engaging in a sit-in protest on House floor demanding a vote on No-Fly-No-Buy gun control. If you want to watch the action, you’ll have to check social media. It’s said House GOP leadership ensured CSPAN cameras were shut off.

Diesel do you

  • Volkswagen streamlining offerings to cut costs, 40 makes on the chopping block (Bloomberg) — This is the old General Motors play that eventually killed Oldsmobile and Pontiac to reduce costs related to duplicative brands. Makes sense, especially if this hatchet job kills passenger diesels. Note the story says a fix may come later — uh-huh, like never? Because VW can’t handle the volume of required repairs OR the lack of actual clean diesel technology, OR both?
  • Testimony in S Korea: VW’s upper management may have ordered regulatory cheats (The Hankyoreh) — Story is focused on emissions controls defeat and approval process, but sound controls were also an issue in South Korea. Were those likewise suppressed by order of VW’s German head office?
  • Former CEO under investigation for securities fraud (Reuters) — Big investors want to know why it took a year for Winterkorn to act after the emissions controls defeat were made public by researchers. Bet there’s a link between Winterkorn’s notification of researchers’ findings and the destruction of emails.

Sigh, cyber, sigh

Wait, what?
Did you know Led Zeppelin is being sued over Stairway to Heaven? Allegedly a key riff in the famous 40-year-old tune was stolen, violating copyright. Forty years. ~smh~

Going back to a recumbent position. Stay braced for the outcome of the sit-in and Brexit vote tomorrow.

Wednesday Morning: Simple Past, Perfect Future

There are thirteen verb tenses in English. I couldn’t recall the thirteenth one to save my life and now after digging through my old composition texts I still can’t figure out what the thirteenth is.

If I have to guess, it’s probably a special case referring to future action. Why should our language be any more lucid than our vision?

Vision we’ve lost; we don’t elect people of vision any longer because we don’t have any ourselves. We vote for people who promise us bullshit based on illusions of a simple past. We don’t choose people who assure us the road will be hard, but there will be rewards for our efforts.

Ad astra per aspera.

Fifty-five years ago today, John F. Kennedy Jr. spoke to a join session of Congress, asking our nation to go to the moon. I was six months old at the time. This quest framed my childhood; every math and science class shaped in some way by the pursuit, arts and humanities giving voice to the fears and aspirations at the same time.

In contrast I look at my children’s experience. My son, who graduates this year from high school, has not known a single year of K-12 education when we were not at war, when terrorism was a word foreign to his day, when we didn’t worry about paying for health care because we’d already bought perma-warfare. None of this was necessary at this scale, pervading our entire culture. What kind of vision does this create across an entire society?

I will say this: these children also don’t recall a time without the internet. They are deeply skeptical people who understand how easy it is to manipulate information. What vision they have may be biased toward technology, but their vision is high definition, and they can detect bullshit within bits and pixels. They also believe we have left them no choice but to boldly go and build a Plan B as we’ve thoroughly trashed Plan A.

Sic itur ad astra. Sic itur ad futurum.

Still looking at past, present, and future…

Past

Present

Future

  • Comparing Apple to BlackBerry, developer Marco Arment frets for Apple’s future (Marco.org) — I can’t help laugh at this bit:

    …When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game…

    Not only is Arment worrying Apple hasn’t grokked AI as Google has, he’s ignored Android’s ~80% global marketshare in mobile devices. That invisible giant which hadn’t ‘completely changed the game.’

  • Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert caught fire (WIRED) — IMO, sounds like a design problem; shouldn’t there be a fail-safe on this, a trigger when temps spike at the tower in the wrong place? Anyhow, it looks like Ivanpah has other problems ahead now that photovoltaic power production is cheaper than buggy concentrated solar power systems.
  • Women, especially WOC, win a record number of Nebula awards for sci-fi (HuffPo) — Prizes for Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy works went to women, which is huge improvement given how many writers and readers are women and women of color. What does the future look like when a greater percentage of humans are represented in fiction? What does a more gender-balanced, less-white future hold for us?

Either I start writing late the night before, or I give up the pretense this is a * morning * roundup. It’s still morning somewhere, I’ll leave this one as is for now. Catch you tomorrow morning — maybe — or early afternoon.

Tuesday Morning: Garbage in, Garbage out [UPDATE]

Why’d I pick this music video, besides the fact I like the tune? Oh, no reason at all other than it’s trash day again.

Speaking of trash…

Facebook furor just frothy foam?
I didn’t add yesterday’s Gizmodo piece on Facebook’s news curation yesterday or the earlier May 3 piece because I thought the work was sketchy. Why?

  • The entire curation system appears to be contractors — Where is a Facebook employee in this process?

    “…News curators aren’t Facebook employees—they’re contractors. One former team member said they received benefits including limited medical insurance, paid time off after 6 months and transit reimbursement, but were otherwise excluded from the culture and perks of working at Facebook. […] When the curators, hired by companies like BCForward and Pro Unlimited (which are then subcontracted through Accenture to provide workers for Facebook), arrive at work each day, they read through a list of trending topics ranked by Facebook’s algorithm from most popular (or most engaged) to least. The curators then determine the news story the terms are related to.

    The news curation team writes headlines for each of the topics, along with a three-sentence summary of the news story it’s pegged to, and choose an image or Facebook video to attach to the topic. The news curator also chooses the “most substantive post” to summarize the topic, usually from a news website. […] News curators also have the power to “deactivate” (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. …” (emphasis mine)

    I see a Facebook-generated algorithm, but no direct employees in the process — only curator-contractors.

  • Sources may have a beef with Facebook — This doesn’t sound like a happy work environment, does it?

    “…Over time, the work became increasingly demanding, and Facebook’s trending news team started to look more and more like the worst stereotypes of a digital media content farm.

    […]

    Burnout was rampant. ‘Most of the original team isn’t there anymore,’ said another former news curator. ‘It was a stop-gap for them. Most of the people were straight out of [journalism school]. At least one of them was fired. Most of them quit or were hired by other news outlets.’ …” (emphasis mine)

    It’s not as if unhappy contractors won’t have newsworthy tips, but what about unhappy Facebook employees? Where are they in either of Gizmodo’s pieces?

  • Details in the reporting reveal bias in the complainant(s) — So far I see one reference to a conservative curator, not multiple conservative curators.

    “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project.

    […]

    Other former curators interviewed by Gizmodo denied consciously suppressing conservative news, and we were unable to determine if left-wing news topics or sources were similarly suppressed. The conservative curator described the omissions as a function of his colleagues’ judgements; there is no evidence that Facebook management mandated or was even aware of any political bias at work. …”

    Note the use of “a” in front of “former journalist” and “the” in front of “conservative curator.” (Note also Gizmodo apparently needs a spell check app.)

  • No named sources confirming the validity of the complaints or other facts in Gizmodo’s reporting — Again, where are Facebook employees? What about feedback from any of the companies supplying contractors; did they not hear complaints from contractors they placed? There aren’t any apparent attempts to contact them to find out, let alone anonymous confirmation from these contract companies. There are updates to the piece yesterday afternoon and this morning, including feedback from Vice President of Search at Facebook, Tom Stocky, which had been posted at Facebook. Something about the lack of direct or detailed feedback to Gizmodo seems off.
  • Though named in the first of two articles, Facebook’s managing editor Benjamin Wagner does not appear to have been asked for comment. The May 3 piece quotes an unnamed Facebook spokesperson:

    When asked about the trending news team and its future, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation. As with all contractors, the trending review team contractors are fairly compensated and receive appropriate benefits.”

I’m disappointed that other news outlets picked up Gizmodo’s work without doing much analysis or followup. Reuters, for example, even parrots the same phrasing Gizmodo used, referring to the news curators as “Facebook workers” and not contract employees or contractors. Because of this ridiculous unquestioning regurgitation by outlets generally better than this, I felt compelled to write about my concerns.

And then there’s Gizmodo itself, which made a point of tweeting its report was trending on Facebook. Does Gizmodo have a beef with Facebook, too? Has it been curated out of Facebook’s news feed? Are these two pieces really about Facebook’s laundering of Gizmodo?

I don’t know; I can’t tell you because I don’t use Facebook. Not going to start now because of Gizmodo’s sketchy reporting on Facebook, of all things.

Miscellany
Just some odd bits read because today is as themeless as yesterday — lots of garbage out there.

Skepticism: I haz it
As I read coverage about news reporting and social media leading up to the general election, I also keep in the back of my mind this Bloomberg report, How to Hack an Election:

As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. […] On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says.

Be more skeptical. See you tomorrow morning!

UPDATE — 1:30 P.M. EDT —

@CNBCnow
JUST IN: Senate Commerce Commtitte chair sends letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg seeking answers on alleged manipulation of trending news

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS? THE SENATE GOING TO WASTE TAX DOLLARS ON THIS WHEN EVERY. SINGLE. NEWS. OUTLET. USES EDITORIAL JUDGMENT TO DECIDE WHAT TO COVER AS NEWS?

Cripes, Gizmodo’s poorly sourced hit piece says,

“…In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. …”

Yet the Senate is going to pursue this bullshit story after Gizmodo relied on ONE conservative curator-contractor — and their story actually says an algorithm is used?

Jeebus. Yet the Senate will ignore Sheldon Adelson’s acquisition of the biggest newspaper in Las Vegas in a possible attempt to denigrate local judges?

I can’t with this.

UPDATE — 3:35 P.M. EDT —
The Guardian reports the senator wasting our tax dollars questioning a First Amendment exercise by Facebook is John Thune. Hey! Guess who’s running for re-election as South Dakota’s senior senator? Why it’s John Thune! Nothing like using your political office as a free press-generating tool to augment your campaign. I hope Facebook’s algorithm suppresses this manufactured non-news crap.

Friday Morning: Gypsy Caravan


TIME, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?

— excerpt, Time, You Old Gipsy Man by Ralph Hodgson

If last week’s Friday chamber jazz was most like me, this genre is next to it. Gypsy jazz is what my grandfather always hoped I’d learn to play; I learned to love Django Reinhardt with Stephane Grapelli at his knee. This stuff makes a bad day move along briskly, makes heavy hearts light. I don’t mind the added filip some smart ass added to the embedded video of Hot Club of Dublin featured here — seems fitting for the tune’s mood.

Unfortunately I have to be away from my desk this morning on a mission of mercy. If I’m stuck someplace with decent WiFi I will try to share a few things I’ve been reading. Otherwise use this as an open thread and tell me what you’ve got planned this weekend — hope it’s something fun!

Oops, last minute adders:

Facebook gets smacked by court for storing biometric content (Reuters) — I really dislike Facebook. Just thought I’d tack that on.

Athabasca tar sands south of Fort McMurray threatened by fire (CBC Calgary) — something-something karma-something

A few more adders:

Aussie company touting anti-Zika virus condoms and gel – what? (Sydney Melbourne Herald) — Are you kidding me? Just use a damned condom. Think about it: plain old condoms are recommended as protection against viral STDs like HIV.

Maps showing borders India doesn’t like may earn jail time and fines (QZ-India) — Wondering why this issue has bubbled up again, not that the border with Pakistan has ever been resolved to India’s satisfaction.

Carnegie Mellon team turn human skin into touch tech (The Verge) — Um, this was done back seven years ago by MIT, called “Sixth Sense,” and released as open source a year later. Still wondering why that tech wasn’t commercialized.