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.

Who actually earns the minimum wage?

Minimum-wage increases could appear on the ballot in as many as 34 states this year. President Obama has also proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10, from $7.25. Who makes the minimum wage, and who would be affected by any of the proposed increases..?

Minimum-wage workers are older than they used to be. Their average age is 35, and 88 percent are at least 20 years old. Half are older than 30, and about a third are at least 40.

These patterns are somewhat new. In 1979, 27 percent of low-wage workers (those making $10.10 per hour or less in today’s dollars) were teenagers, compared with 12 percent in 2013…

They’re split fairly evenly between full-timers and part-timers. Most — 54 percent — work full-time schedules (at least 35 hours per week), and another 32 percent work at least half time (20-34 hours per week).

Many have kids. About one-quarter (27 percent) of these low-wage workers are parents, compared with 34 percent of all workers. In all, 19 percent of children in the United States have a parent who would benefit from the increase…

A minimum-wage increase does much more to help low- and moderate-income households than any other groups. Households that make less than $20,000 receive 5 percent of the nation’s total earnings, for instance — but would receive 26 percent of the benefit from the proposed minimum-wage increase.

Most are women. Women make up 48 percent of the work force yet 55 percent of the would-be beneficiaries of the increase in the minimum wage.

Most are white, but minorities are overrepresented. Hispanic workers account for 16 percent of the work force but 24 percent of those who would be affected by the wage increase. For African-Americans, the comparable shares are 11 percent of the work force and 15 percent of those who would gain from the increase.

They’ve got some schooling, though less than other workers. Of those who would be affected by the increase, 78 percent have at least finished high school, about one-third have some college under their belts, and about 10 percent have graduated from college. By comparison, 91 percent of the total work force has at least graduated from high school, and 34 percent have completed college.

As with the population as a whole, low-wage workers are more educated than in the past. In the late 1960s, less than half had finished high school and only 17 percent had attended any college at all.

Their earnings are a big part of their family budgets. The average worker in this group brings home half of his or her household’s earnings; 19 percent of those who would get the raise are sole earners. Parents who would benefit from the increase bring home an even larger share of their families’ earnings: 60 percent.

They’re in every state, but are overrepresented in the South. Because most of the states that have raised their minimums above the federal level are outside the South, a national increase would have more bite there. Workers in Southern states make up 17 percent of the nation’s work force but 21 percent of minimum-wage beneficiaries; workers in Northern states make up about the same share of the work force but just 16 percent of those who benefit from the proposed increase.

While I tend to think of our elected officials as fitting snugly into the ignoranus class – especially regarding science, sophistication and world view – no doubt they know the real numbers even when they’re preaching populist gospel in a calculated soundbite. That’s a complex way of saying – the next time you hear a Tea Party senator or Confederate congressman spouting off that minimum wage is only for teenagers flipping burgers, he’s lying.

NYC company required workers to pray, say “I love you” to managers

OnionHead

A federal agency sued a New York customer service provider on Wednesday after allegations the company forced employees to pray, thank God for their jobs and say “I love you” to managers and colleagues at work, and fired those who protested.

The Long Island-based United Health Programs of America and its parent company, Cost Containment Group, required workers to practice a spiritual belief system called Onionhead while on the job, in violation of their civil and religious rights, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in the complaint.

The company fired several employees who refused to adhere to the Onionhead doctrine, which was created by the aunt of the company’s owner, the complaint said…

I admit I thought this was an article from THE ONION at this point.

“While religious or spiritual practices may indeed provide comfort and community to many people, it is critical to be aware that federal law prohibits employers from coercing employees to take part in them,” Sunu Chandy, senior trial attorney at the commission, said in a statement.

The commission is seeking back pay with interest and unspecified damages for the fired employees, and an injunction against the company from further religious requirements.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at crap like this being imposed on workers. Most of our True Believers think their particular doctrine supersedes the laws of the United States.

What does it take to convince them they have no such right?