Tag Archives: Social networks

Fake news and botnets: how Russia weaponized the web

By Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus – Estonia boasts the most technologically advanced system of government in the world.

Every citizen possesses a digital identity – an identification number and login code for access to completely digitized interactions with the state. Estonians can vote online, file their taxes, check medical records, access the national health care system, and receive notifications of most government attempts to access their personal records. About 97% of the country uses digital banking. The Estonian national ethic is built on the idea that every citizen is transparent and the state is too. This makes Estonia extremely efficient – and extremely vulnerable.

“We live in the future. Online banking, online news, text messages, online shopping – total digitization has made everything quicker and easier,” Jaan Priisalu said. “But it also creates the possibility that we can be thrown back centuries in a couple of seconds.”

The question is how the west can maintain its core values of freedom of speech and the free flow of information while protecting itself from malevolent geopolitical actors? For centuries, eastern European countries such as Estonia relied on walls, watchtowers, and fortresses to keep out invaders. The US became the world’s most powerful country in part because it was insulated from foreign threats by vast oceans on two sides. In the internet age, traditional borders are less effective.

To survive in the era of information warfare, every society will have to create ways of withstanding cyber-attacks. more>

Updates from GE

The Heat Camera Is On: Retailers Turn To Sensors For Insight
By Bruce Watson & Dorothy Pomerantz – Online retailers have been tracking their customers and their web habits with cookies for years. No wonder their brick-and-mortar rivals are looking for new ways to play the big-data game.

The French startup IRLYNX believes it can help them set sales on fire. The company developed small heat sensors, each just 1 centimeter in diameter, that retailers can place on walls, ceilings and even in light fixtures around a store to track customers.

Picking up customers’ body heat, each sensor can monitor movement as far as 15 meters away and within a 120-degree sweep. They can detect heat variances of less than 1 degree Fahrenheit, which helps them tell a human from, say, a hot computer or a fresh cup of coffee.

The sensors can also detect the size and postures of shoppers and distinguish an adult from a child or someone who is sitting down to try on a pair of shoes. The sensors are a big upgrade from the way stores typically track shoppers — with cameras.

While the images on a camera may be clearer, it’s very difficult to use those images to track data about how people are using a store. “Video-analysis software can be easily confused by mirrors, photographs, televisions, posters — almost any images of humans,” says Guillaume Crozet, IRLYNX’s vice president for sales and marketing.

Training algorithms to disregard these false images can be time-consuming and costly. more>

How Americans became vulnerable to Russian disinformation

By Kent Harrington – Last week, Congress unveiled legislation that http://blogs.strategygroup.net/wp2/economy/?p=63300&preview=truewould force Facebook, Google, and other social media giants to disclose who buys online advertising, thereby closing a loophole that Russia exploited during the election.

Strip away the technobabble about better algorithms, more transparency, and commitment to truth, and Silicon Valley’s “fixes” dodge a simple fact: its technologies are not designed to sort truth from falsehoods, check accuracy, or correct mistakes. Just the opposite: they are built to maximize clicks, shares, and “likes.”

Despite pushing to displace traditional news outlets as the world’s information platforms, social media’s moguls appear content to ignore journalism’s fundamental values, processes, and goals. It is this irresponsibility that co-sponsors of the recent advertising transparency bill are seeking to address.

Still, Russia’s success in targeting American voters with bogus news could not have succeeded were it not for the second problem: a poorly educated electorate susceptible to manipulation. The erosion of civics education in schools, the shuttering of local newspapers – and the consequent decline in the public’s understanding of issues and the political process – conspire to create fertile ground for the sowing of disinformation. more>

Using “public interest algorithms” to tackle the problems created by social media algorithms

By Tom Wheeler – Technology and capitalism have combined to deliver us to a decidedly undemocratic outcome. The internet was once heralded as the great democratizing tool. That vision was smashed by the algorithms of the social media platforms. By fracturing society into small groups, the internet has become the antithesis of the community necessary for democratic processes to succeed.

This is bigger than the current discussion of political advertising rules for the internet. The questionable ads and postings are the result of the problem, not the cause of it. That problem is how the software algorithms that determine what you see on social media prioritize revenue over veracity.

In social media parlance, identifying users who like similar content is described as assembling a community. In reality, these groups are the un-community. Algorithms deliver only what they want to see, creating silos of prejudices and preferences that tear at the collective fabric required for a representative democracy. As the Russians demonstrated, organizing Americans into self-reinforcing echo chambers is ripe for exploitation.

Today, public interest groups of all political stripes monitor the mainstream media. With a public interest API they could also built public interest algorithms to accomplish the same for social media. To date, algorithms have been problem-creators.

It’s time for social media open APIs to enable problem-solving through public interest algorithms. more>

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How Big Tech Became a Bipartisan Whipping Boy

By Nitasha Tiku – A few years ago, successful technology companies were widely envied as paragons of American business. No longer.

Against the backdrop of the 2016 election, social-media platforms that had been viewed as free, frictionless, neutral connections to the world looked instead like tools to undermine democracy.

Now concerns about their outsized influence on public debate, the real cost of their convenience, their voracious appetite to swallow markets and competitors, and their control over Americans’ personal data have formed a fog of suspicion that has many in Washington questioning the lax rules that facilitated their rise—and has politicians and public figures on all sides taking on big tech to score populist points. more>

Global cooperation depends on the strength of local connections

BOOK REVIEW

The Descent of Man, Author: Charles Darwin.

By Benjamin Allen – The story of humanity is one of extraordinary cooperation but also terrible conflict. We come together to build cities, civilizations and cultures, but we also destroy these through violence against each other and degradation of our environment.

Given that human nature is capable of both extremes, how can we design societies and institutions that help to bring out our better, more cooperative, instincts?

This question is not limited to humans. Life’s domains are replete with many forms of cooperation, from microbes sharing helpful molecules to dolphins providing aid to the injured. This kind of ‘altruistic’ behavior – helping others at one’s own expense – presents an evolutionary puzzle.

Ideas about evolution and human nature can be difficult to test in the laboratory. However, insight can come from a surprising place: mathematics. The idea is to create a mathematical model: a cartoon picture of the real world, drawn in the language of maths. Mathematical analysis can then provide a kind of ‘instant experiment’ to test an idea on its theoretical merits.

Individuals can cooperate, helping their neighbors at a cost to themselves, or not. This choice is an example of what game theory calls the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’. Each individual, if acting in pure self-interest, would choose not to cooperate. Yet cooperation by everyone leads to greater prosperity for all.

Over time, one strategy will win out: society will converge to a state where either everyone cooperates or no one does. more> https://goo.gl/XC4Ju9

How our desires shape our beliefs

BOOK REVIEW

The Influential Mind, Author: Tali Sharot.

By Tali Sharot – A study conducted at Harvard University found that people were willing to forgo money so that their opinions would be broadcast to others. A brain-imaging scan showed that when people received the opportunity to communicate their opinions to others, their brain’s reward center was strongly activated.

We experience a burst of pleasure when we share our thoughts, and this drives us to communicate. It is a useful feature of our brain, because it ensures that knowledge, experience and ideas do not get buried with the person who first had them, and that as a society we benefit from the products of many minds.

What determines whether you affect the way others think and behave or are ignored?

You may assume that numbers and statistics are what you need to change their point of view. Well, you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that all these experiments pointed to the reality that people are not driven by facts.

The problem with an approach that prioritizes information is that it ignores the core of what makes us human: our motives, our fears, our hopes, our desires, our prior beliefs. more> https://goo.gl/65RTwv

Did Google and GoDaddy Set a Dangerous Precedent by Dropping a Neo-Nazi Website?

By Jack Denton – GoDaddy’s decision comes at a particularly fraught moment in the debate over whether freedom of speech can be reconciled with attempts to quell hateful discourse and actions. Additionally, with the Internet becoming the preferred mode of public discourse, abusive trolling and rampant falsehoods have led some to call for increased accountability from Internet service providers and social media companies for the content they host and support.

The central question of this debate continues to be: Is freedom worth its consequences?

Preventing people from reaching the Daily Stormer’s website does nothing to actually combat the ideas. There’s the old, famous saying that the remedy for bad speech is more speech—it’s not silencing the bad speech. Hate speech is legal in the United States. And people are going to continue to express themselves in awful ways, and cutting off the domain name isn’t helpful for the dialogue.

Any attempt to try to hold service providers responsible is absolutely bound to backfire. In the marketplace of ideas, we need to have exposure to all sorts of ideas. Good ones, bad ones, fake ones—all of them are valuable in their own way. The reader is the only one whose judgment matters.

The problems in Charlottesville were not problems of speech, they were problems of violence. more> https://goo.gl/YBkDkM

Updates from Georgia Tech

Decades of Data on World’s Oceans Reveal a Troubling Oxygen Decline
By Takamitsu Ito, Shoshiro Minobe, Matthew C. Long and Curtis Deutsch – A new analysis of decades of data on oceans across the globe has revealed that the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.

The majority of the oxygen in the ocean is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface or created by photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Ocean currents then mix that more highly oxygenated water with subsurface water. But rising ocean water temperatures near the surface have made it more buoyant and harder for the warmer surface waters to mix downward with the cooler subsurface waters. Melting polar ice has added more freshwater to the ocean surface – another factor that hampers the natural mixing and leads to increased ocean more> stratification.

Falling oxygen levels in water have the potential to impact the habitat of marine organisms worldwide and in recent years led to more frequent “hypoxic events” that killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and many other organisms. more> https://goo.gl/3F17TB

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“I have nothing to hide. Why should I care about my privacy?”

By Fábio Esteves – There are two sets of reasons to care about your privacy even if you’ve got nothing to hide: ideological reasons and practical reasons.

Don’t confuse privacy with secrecy. I know what you do in the bathroom, but you still close the door. That’s because you want privacy, not secrecy.

A company like Facebook or Google allows you to upload unlimited data to their servers, for free. What’s their business model? How do they make so much money? They sell your info to advertising companies. But they never asked you if you wanted to sell your information. If someone asked you in person 100 questions about your personal life to sell it, would you answer them? Probably not, right? But you let this happen every time you use a service that makes money selling your info. more> https://goo.gl/mstSm5