Tagged: Google

Facebook experiments with lab rats user base.

legit lab rat

Unbeknownst to the world, Facebook data scientists, in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of California, ran an experiment in 2012 to test how emotions can be transmitted through social media. They did this by manipulating the newsfeed of 689,003 English-speaking Facebook users, so it would show low numbers of positive or negative posts, and observed how this influenced their posts.

The results of the study were published late last week and have since gone viral. They concluded that emotional states could be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.

Reaction was negative and swift, with people predictably angry to find out Facebook had tweaked user feeds without permission. Critics questioned the ethics of the study; the researchers were criticised for not seeking consent; and the social networking giant was deemed creepy by angry users.

Adam Kramer, a Facebook employee and one of the authors of the study, apologised for the emotional contagion, saying, in hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all the anxiety caused…

Facebook may have been concerned about users’ exposure to negativity, but it is unlikely it thought about how users would feel after discovering they were lab rats for the social network.

Either way, the study once again highlights Facebook’s unclear boundaries with its membership.

That’s putting it pleasantly.

Poisonally – unlike Google which tried at first to maintain a facade of caring for consumers and customers as associates in a journey through the InterWebitubes – I feel Facebook has always seemed to be peering down its patrician nose at us common folk.

Now, they’re neck-and-neck spewing disingenuous bullshit about caring for anything more than their balance sheet.

Thanks, Mike

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Is Google buying satellites to spy on you? — gasp!


National Reconnaissance Office — Fifty years of vigilance from above

With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature itself.

But this acquisition will also demand assurances from Google that it will incorporate privacy safeguards into its vast new view of the world. Already Google gets a lot of flack for tracking user behavior online. With Skybox’s satellites, Google may gain a window into your everyday life even if you don’t use Google at all.

Not too often do we get the paranoid response BEFORE the technical part of an article.

In a statement, Google has said that, in the short term, it plans to use Skybox’s satellites to keep Google Maps up to date. And, in the future, the company says, it could use them to help spread internet access to remote areas, something that will help improve the reach of its existing services.

But imagine all the other things Google could do turns its artificial intelligence expertise onto a constant stream of images beamed down from above…

One Skybox insider told David Samuels that satellite images alone could be used to estimate any country’s major economic indicators. Take, for example, this Skybox case study of Saudi oil reserves measured from space. Now consider the insights that could come from marrying that visual data with Google’s Knowledge Graph, leveraging all the company’s algorithmic might. Google could learn all kinds of new things about the world.

But it could also learn all kinds of new things about you. Skybox can take photos from 500 miles up with a sub-one-meter resolution of the ground below. That isn’t likely to sit well with privacy activists who already don’t trust Google. What does the right to be forgotten mean when Google can always see you anyway?

Skybox’s pedigree likely won’t help assuage anyone who likes a good conspiracy theory. According to Samuels, one of the company’s co-founders, John Fenwick, had previously worked as as a liaison in Congress for the National Reconnaissance Office, “the ultrasecret spy agency that manages much of America’s most exotic space toys.” A major investor had worked as an intelligence officer in the French army, while its CEO held previous jobs that brought him into close contact with the Department of Defense…

Yes, these worries are legitimate. As legitimate as worrying about your DirecTV DVR listening in on conversation in the living room – or Microsoft Link turning over travel information in your new car to the NSA.

If Google finds ways of using these satellites that ends up making users’ lives more interesting and convenient, most people are unlikely to object, just like revelations of NSA surveillance haven’t exactly dented Gmail’s market share. But people may find the idea of Google looking down from the heavens on their physical selves more discomfiting than peering through their browsers at their virtual personas. After all, putting an all-seeing Google eye in space gives a whole new meaning to “do not track.”

It’s not the paranoia that I question. It’s the ignorance. Apparently, ignorance about how long governments have had this capability in spades. I learned both Soviet and American spy satellites were capable of reading the license plate on my car – in 1965. The US project started in 1957. I doubt that David Samuels or Marcus Wohlsen were born yet.

I don’t doubt Skybox has advanced beyond the software and hardware pioneered by Itek and whoever did Soviet satellite optics. But, if you think the alphabet soup of federally-funded spies and snoops haven’t been updating and upgrading – with a lot more moolah than a startup less than a decade in the air – you’re kidding yourself.

I don’t doubt there are or will be the occasional near-Earth project that’s cheap enough to attract Uncle Sugar’s spooks. Maybe there might be a view of something snapped at just the right place and time. I just don’t think relying on conspiracy theory to explain a half-billion$ purchase – especially when the spies who it for a living have a half-century head start. And all the taxpayers in the country to fund their work.

Maybe folks are primarily worried about Google spying for its own end…”imagine all the other things Google could do” could be all this is about. But, it’s still a heckuva lot cheaper to lease time or buy info from eyes in the sky than to acquire your own NASA. Unless, um, maybe you’d like to sell Android satphones to half the folks in Africa or South Asia and the Middle East.

Slowly, surely, a plan to impede the NSA is taking hold

A year after revelations first emerged from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about mass Internet surveillance, more e-mail providers are adopting encryption, a simple change that could make it harder for spy agencies to vacuum up huge numbers of communications in transit.

In an analysis released this week, Google said 65 percent of the messages sent by Gmail users are encrypted when delivered, meaning the recipient’s provider also supports the encryption needed to establish a secure connection for transmission of the message…Gmail has more than 425 million accounts worldwide and was an early adopter of e-mail encryption.

Only 50 percent of incoming messages are encrypted, Google says, but that’s up from 27 percent on December 11, 2013. And the numbers could get even better as more providers offer encryption by default to their customers. Charlie Davis, a Comcast spokesman, says the Internet service provider is working on it and plans to “gradually ramp up encryption with Gmail in the coming weeks.”

There are still significant gaps: less than 1 percent of traffic to and from Gmail from Comcast and Verizon is currently encrypted, and fewer than half of e-mails from Hotmail accounts to Gmail are encrypted.

What’s more, messages are protected only in transit—there’s nothing to stop the NSA from reading them if it gains access to an e-mail provider’s servers. Even here, though, the tide may be turning: on Tuesday Google released draft source code of a tool, called End-to-End, that would secure a message from the moment it leaves one browser to the moment it arrives at another—meaning even e-mail providers couldn’t read them as they travel between two people, because they wouldn’t have the keys needed to decrypt those messages…

Embarrassed by Snowden’s revelations, many Silicon Valley giants are advertising increased use of encryption.

Apart from any other consideration, as long as smart coders devise methods for keeping freestyle government snoops out of your life – and a profit can be made from it – then the word will get out.

Whatever the reasoning, netizens will continue to make their own decisions about privacy, voting with their feet if they feel concerned, refusing to opt in if they value privacy more than an extended puberty. That’s still a milieu apart from creeps with unconstitutional authority handed over by elected cowards – looking through the pages of your life.

Google’s truly self-driving cars haven’t a steering wheel or pedals

Google’s been hacking regular cars to make them drive themselves for a while now, but at the Code Conference…Sergey Brin showed off the next step: an entirely new self-driving car designed from the ground up. The project looks something like a smaller Smart car, and it lacks any human control whatsoever: no steering wheel, no pedals, no gearshift. It doesn’t even have mirrors. It’s just two seats and a window, and you simply call it to come get you, sit down, and let it drive you to your destination. This is my dream.

“We actually designed these with some safety features that haven’t been seen,” said Brin. “There’s about two feet of foam on the front, and the windshield is made of glass, but it’s a plastic glass.” Brin said Google used automotive suppliers and car parts, but those parts have been customized. “We plan to go up to about one or two hundred of these, they’re prototypes,” he said. “There’s no reason they couldn’t go 100 miles an hour or faster once you can prove that they can do that safely.” Brin said the car can be made “far safer” than human-driven cars, and that the current programming is “more defensive” than the average human driver: it waits to go on green, and it uses lasers to monitor the complete 360-degree field around itself.

“I’m certainly not advocating that we get rid of all cars that do not drive themselves,” said Brin, although he wants some of his safety features to hit the mass market. “We worked with partners to build these prototypes, and we’ll work with partners to build these.” The cars will hit the road before the end of the year with safety drivers who can control the car with a joystick, but don’t get too excited. “I think these being broadly available will take several years,” said Brin.

I did feel like I was on a Disney ride,” said Recode’s Kara Swisher, who took a ride in the prototype. “I wanted a drink. I wanted to drink while texting.”

I love this as much as I still love Morgans or Ferraris or Teslas. The definition of a perfect automobile is one that does exactly what it is designed to do. Doing it well, efficiently, while being attractive in its own way.

Like my wife’s La Fiesta.

Thanks, Mike…Thanks, Gracie…everyone wants one of these

Europe’s top court says people have a right to be forgotten

People can ask Google to delete sensitive information from its Internet search results, Europe’s top court said on Tuesday.

The case underlines the battle between advocates of free expression and supporters of privacy rights, who say people should have the “right to be forgotten” meaning that they should be able to remove their digital traces from the Internet.

The ruling by the Luxembourg-based European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) came after a Spanish man complained to the Spanish data protection agency that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google’s search results infringed his privacy.

The case is one of 180 similar cases in Spain whose complainants want Google to delete their personal information from the Web. The company says forcing it to remove such data amounts to censorship…

“An Internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties,” the judges said.

Americans don’t always comprehend the history in Europe that produces a greater concern over privacy than we often display. We’ve not had wars fought forth and back over our whole nation against invaders who brought fascist rule to a captive nation. We’ve not had wars across our whole nation lost to the powers of brutality that demanded subservience – since the Civil War – and the nation united won that one.

Fortunately, we live in a land confident that the two political parties will support our Constitutional rights through any confrontation with evil.

Oh.

Thanks, Mike

Oklahoma state employees made over 2 million visits to Facebook in 3 months

Oklahoma’s Cyber Command Security Operations Center said state employees on the state computer network made 2,008,092 visits to Facebook in a three month span.

The agency, which is aimed at protecting the state computer system from cyber attacks, said its tracking of the state computer network found state employees made 2,008,092 visits to Facebook between July and September, but officials said the number may be inflated as Facebook registers a page view every time a website is brought up that includes an embedded Facebook widget…

The operations center said Google registered 1,074,684 page views during the same time period and Twitter and YouTube had 272,661 and 225,228 page views, respectively.

Preston Doerflinger, director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which oversees the Cyber Command Security Operations Center, is implementing a policy to block state employees from using their work computers to access Facebook unless they can demonstrate a legitimate need to access the site as part of their jobs, an agency spokesman said.

What constitutes a legitimate need to access Facebook as part of your job? Unless you’re paid to be a snoop.

Our government opposes request to reveal spying demands

The U.S. Justice Department has told a secret surveillance court that it opposes a request from technology companies to reveal more about the demands they receive for user information, according to court papers released on Wednesday.

Negotiations between the federal government and companies such as Google have gone on for months, and while U.S. spy agencies said they plan to be more transparent, they have opposed company requests to disclose more detailed data…

Microsoft, Yahoo!, LinkedIn and Facebook are among the companies seeking permission to publish statistics about the extent of the demands placed on them.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post, using former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as a source, reported beginning in June the companies’ deep involvement with U.S. surveillance efforts.

The companies said some of the reporting was erroneous, so they want to reveal, for example, how many of their users are encompassed in surveillance demands and the total number of compulsory requests under specific laws.

The Justice Department said in its response: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

The surveillance court has not yet ruled publicly on the companies’ request.

RTFA if you honestly feel you need to read the crap the DOJ released as an answer to the questions raised in this confrontation.

Frankly, I think the average 6th grader has heard sufficient phony-baloney press releases read on the evening news by TV talking heads to be capable of coming pretty close to reproducing the excuses offered by any group of American politicians.

Microsoft and Google sue US government over NSA gag order

Microsoft and Google may sue US government to allow them to publish user data request from the government after talks with the Justice Department stalled.

The tech giants filed suits in a US federal court in June, arguing a right to make public more information about user data requests made under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The technology giants agreed six times to extend the deadline for the government to respond to the lawsuits, the Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, wrote in a blog post.

“With the failure of our recent negotiations, we will move forward with litigation in the hope that the courts will uphold our right to speak more freely,” he posted on the blog.

“To followers of technology issues, there are many days when Microsoft and Google stand apart,” Smith said. “But today our two companies stand together… We believe we have a clear right under the US Constitution to share more information with the public.”

“…we believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email,” Smith said.

He argued that, along with providing numbers of requests, disclosures should provide context regarding what is being sought.

“We believe it’s possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk,” Smith said.

A government that says it needs to keep secret the activities supposedly protecting us is a government that fears democracy, fears an informed public, fears the spirit of the United States Constitution.

Our government has a gag order on banks, on corporations, on service providers – our government has threatened to jail librarians for refusing to cooperate with spying on library patrons. The stink is spreading. Every attempt by the Obama administration to justify their “legalizing” of criminal practices started by Bush and Cheney deserves nothing less than contempt.

The fightback must continue.

Google says Gmail users shouldn’t expect email privacy — UPDATED

Gmail users have no “reasonable expectation” that their emails are confidential, Google has said in a court filing.

Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group that uncovered the filing, called the revelation a “stunning admission.” It comes as Google and its peers are under pressure to explain their role in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of US citizens and foreign nationals.

“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.”

Google set out its case last month in an attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit that accuses the tech giant of breaking wire tap laws when it scans emails in order to target ads to Gmail users.

That suit, filed in May, claims Google “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages.” It quotes Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman: “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

“Unbeknown to millions of people, on a daily basis and for years, Google has systematically and intentionally crossed the ‘creepy line’ to read private email messages containing information you don’t want anyone to know, and to acquire, collect, or mine valuable information from that mail,” the suit claims…

According to Google: “Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”

Um, I’d say that’s pretty clear. Also blindingly apparent to any geek who’s been around this electronic neighborhood for a spell is that Google never let on that anything other than “Do no harm” was their corporate guidance. From day one every bit of their PR was designed to reinforce a counter-culture ethos, differentiation from the rest of America’s greedy corporate culture.

And all that sums up the past few years as a revelation. A decidedly negative disclosure.

UPDATE: Google officials say this article quoted Google’s idiot lawyers – not the people who govern policy.