Category Archives: The Web

How the CIA made Google

Nafeez Ahmed writes for INSURE INTELLIGENCE/Medium:

‘[…] As our governments push to increase their powers, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE can now reveal the vast extent to which the US intelligence community is implicated in nurturing the web platforms we know today, for the precise purpose of utilizing the technology as a mechanism to fight global ‘information war’ — a war to legitimize the power of the few over the rest of us. The lynchpin of this story is the corporation that in many ways defines the 21st century with its unobtrusive omnipresence: Google.

Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the US military-industrial complex.

The inside story of Google’s rise, revealed here for the first time, opens a can of worms that goes far beyond Google, unexpectedly shining a light on the existence of a parasitical network driving the evolution of the US national security apparatus, and profiting obscenely from its operation.’

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Jon Ronson in Conversation with Adam Curtis

Jon Ronson recently interviewed Adam Curtis for VICE:

‘I’ve known Adam Curtis for nearly 20 years. We’re friends. We see movies together, and once even went to Romania on a mini-break to attend an auction of Nicolae Ceausescu’s belongings. But it would be wrong to characterise our friendship as frivolous. Most of the time when we’re together I’m just intensely cross-questioning him about some new book idea I have.

Sometimes Adam will say something that seems baffling and wrong at the time, but makes perfect sense a few years later. I could give you lots of examples, but here’s one: I’m about to publish a book – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – about how social media is evolving into a cold and conservative place, a giant echo chamber where what we believe is constantly reinforced by people who believe the same thing, and when people step out of line in the smallest ways we destroy them. Adam was warning me about Twitter’s propensity to turn this way six years ago, when it was still a Garden of Eden. Sometimes talking to Adam feels like finding the results of some horse race of the future, where the long-shot horse wins.

I suppose it’s no surprise that Adam would notice this stuff about social media so early on. It’s what his films are almost always about – power and social control. However, people don’t only enjoy them for the subject matter, but for how they look, too – his wonderful, strange use of archive.’

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56% of online display ads are not seen by consumers, according to Google study

Jessica Davies reports for The Drum:

‘More than half (56.1 per cent) of online display ad impressions are not seen by consumers, according to Google’s first global viewability report unveiled following a series of trials with advertisers.

The internet giant, which opened up viewability-based trading across its display network last year, letting advertisers pay only for impressions likely to be seen, has conducted its first global report into the area as it looks to “take a lead” in building understanding in viewability-based trading.’

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‘Complete rape’ of government by industry: NSA whistleblower on private contractors in intelligence

‘Kirk Wiebe, an NSA veteran and whistleblower, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about mass surveillance.’ (Going Underground)

Why the modern world is bad for your brain

Daniel J. Levitin has an excerpt from his latest book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, featured in The Guardian: 

Daniel J Levitan‘Our brains are busier than ever before. We’re assaulted with facts, pseudo facts, jibber-jabber, and rumour, all posing as information. Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting. At the same time, we are all doing more. Thirty years ago, travel agents made our airline and rail reservations, salespeople helped us find what we were looking for in shops, and professional typists or secretaries helped busy people with their correspondence. Now we do most of those things ourselves. We are doing the jobs of 10 different people while still trying to keep up with our lives, our children and parents, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, and our favourite TV shows.

Our smartphones have become Swiss army knife–like appliances that include a dictionary, calculator, web browser, email, Game Boy, appointment calendar, voice recorder, guitar tuner, weather forecaster, GPS, texter, tweeter, Facebook updater, and flashlight. They’re more powerful and do more things than the most advanced computer at IBM corporate headquarters 30 years ago. And we use them all the time, part of a 21st-century mania for cramming everything we do into every single spare moment of downtime. We text while we’re walking across the street, catch up on email while standing in a queue – and while having lunch with friends, we surreptitiously check to see what our other friends are doing. At the kitchen counter, cosy and secure in our domicile, we write our shopping lists on smartphones while we are listening to that wonderfully informative podcast on urban beekeeping.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” So we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.’

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David Cameron’s internet surveillance plans rival Syria, Russia and Iran

Cory Doctorow writes for The Guardian:

David Cameron at a computer‘What David Cameron thinks he’s saying is: “We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back doors into their tools for us.” There are enormous problems with this: there’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your WhatsApp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (such as those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the phone-hacking scandal – and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years) and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They – and not just the security services – will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications, from the pictures of your kids in your bath you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to co-workers.

But this is just for starters. David Cameron doesn’t understand technology very well, so he doesn’t actually know what he’s asking for. For his proposal to work, he will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of his jurisdiction. The best in secure communications are free/open-source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available and, thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a high degree of confidence, that the software you’ve downloaded hasn’t been tampered with.

Cameron is not alone here. The regime he proposes is already in place in countries such as Syria, Russia, and Iran (for the record, none of these countries have had much luck with it). There are two means by which authoritarian governments have attempted to restrict the use of secure technology: by network filtering and by technology mandates.’

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Europe’s answer to France terror ‘attack on free speech’ is greater Internet censorship

Zack Whittaker reports for ZDNet:

‘About half of Europe’s member states are pushing for greater online censorship powers in the wake of the terror attacks in France earlier this month.

In a joint statement, interior ministers from 11 European member states — including Germany, Poland, Spain, and the U.K. — expressed condemnation of the attacks, while stressing further cooperation between their law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Members of the European Union, along with a delegation from the U.S. government — including outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder — adopted, among other sentiments, a resolution to create a partnership of major Internet providers to report and remove material associated with extremism.’

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GCHQ could be behind ‘super-spyware’ attack – Security expert on Regin, incredibly advanced virus

21st-century censorship: Governments around the world are using stealthy strategies to manipulate the media

Philip Bennett and Moises Naim report for Columbia Review of Journalism:

Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”

It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom.

Illustrating this point is a curious fact: Censorship is flourishing in the information age. In theory, new technologies make it more difficult, and ultimately impossible, for governments to control the flow of information. Some have argued that the birth of the internet foreshadowed the death of censorship. In 1993, John Gilmore, an internet pioneer, told Time, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Today, many governments are routing around the liberating effects of the internet. Like entrepreneurs, they are relying on innovation and imitation. In countries such as Hungary, Ecuador, Turkey, and Kenya, officials are mimicking autocracies like Russia, Iran, or China by redacting critical news and building state media brands. They are also creating more subtle tools to complement the blunt instruments of attacking journalists.

As a result, the internet’s promise of open access to independent and diverse sources of information is a reality mostly for the minority of humanity living in mature democracies.’

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Charlie Hebdo murders are no excuse for killing online freedom

David Meyer writes for Gigaaom:

‘There’s been a predictable split in the reactions to Wednesday’s slaughter of the staff of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, along with others including police who were trying to protect them. On the one hand, hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in France and across Europe in defiance against those behind this attack on free speech…

… while others have taken a decidedly different tack, using the outrage as a justification for the rolling-back of online civil liberties. This approach was taken by Dan Hodges in the Telegraph, and by the Sun in an editorial arguing that “intelligence is our best defense… yet liberals still fret over the perceived assault on civil liberties of spooks analyzing emails.”’

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Security Flaw Exposed In Use Of Fingerprint Passwords

With the Power of Social Media Growing, Police Are Now Monitoring and Criminalizing Online Speech

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - With Power of Social Media Growing, Police Now Monitoring and Criminalizing Online Speech‘[…] Criminal cases for online political speech are now commonplace in the UK, notorious for its hostility to basic free speech and press rights. As The Independent‘s James Bloodworth reported last week, “around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online.”

But the persecution is by no means viewpoint-neutral. It instead is overwhelmingly directed at the country’s Muslims for expressing political opinions critical of the state’s actions.

To put it mildly, not all online “hate speech” or advocacy of violence is treated equally. It is, for instance, extremely difficult to imagine that Facebook users who sanction violence by the UK in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who spew anti-Muslim animus, or who call for and celebrate the deaths of Gazans, would be similarly prosecuted. In both the UK and Europe generally, cases are occasionally brought for right-wing “hate speech” (the above warning from Scotland’s police was issued after a polemicist posted repellent jokes on Twitter about Ebola patients). But the proposed punishments for such advocacy are rarely more than symbolic: trivial fines and the like. The real punishment is meted out overwhelmingly against Muslim dissidents and critics of the West.’

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Iran expands ‘smart’ Internet censorship

Michelle Moghtader reports for Reuters:

‘Iran is to expand what it calls “smart filtering” of the Internet, a policy of censoring undesirable content on websites without banning them completely, as it used to, the government said on Friday.

The Islamic Republic has some of the strictest controls on Internet access in the world, but its blocks on U.S.-based social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are routinely bypassed by tech-savvy Iranians using virtual private networks (VPNs).

Under the new scheme, Tehran could lift its blanket ban on those sites and, instead, filter their content.’

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U.S. Tech Firms Face Showdown With Russian Censors

Sam Schechner And Gregory White report for the Wall Street Journal:

‘[…] Until now, companies have often complied with Russia’s legal orders to remove content, rather than risk a government blackout. But the firms have become more wary as the government has given itself new powers to regulate the Internet. And the very public nature of this episode leaves the U.S. tech companies facing a dilemma.

On one hand, cooperation with governments like Russia’s risks damaging their reputation among users, and goes against the libertarian values of Silicon Valley. But U.S. Internet firms need to expand in large markets to meet the growth expectations that have raised their valuations to stratospheric levels.

Similar tensions played out this year in Turkey, where the government demanded the removal of content on Twitter and YouTube that alleged government corruption. Twitter and YouTube resisted some of the requests, leading the government to temporarily block them across the country.’

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Google Shuts Down Its Spanish Language News Service Over New Intellectual Property Law

Inside an internet addiction treatment centre in China

Chris Baraniuk writes for New Scientist:

‘In China, if you are a kid who spends a long time online, you had better watch out. Your parents may send you off for “treatment”.

At the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in Beijing, children must take part in military-style activities, including exercise drills and the singing of patriotic songs. They are denied access to the internet. One of the first experiences internees undergo is brain monitoring through electroencephalography (EEG). The programme is run by psychologist Tao Ran, who claims the brains of internet and heroin addicts display similarities.’

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Sydney Gunman Made Hostages Use Social Media

Twitter Backer Of ISIS A Clean-Cut Executive In India?

SEE ALSO: Indian police arrest pro-Isis Twitter follower ‘outed’ by Channel Four

Ben Hubbard writes for The New York Times:

News‘As the extremists of the Islamic State rampaged across Syria and Iraq, the Twitter user @ShamiWitness was among their most prolific and widely followed English-language supporters. In a near-constant barrage of posts, he cheered the group’s advances, disparaged its enemies and called on Muslims from around the world to heed the call of jihad.

But according to a report broadcast Thursday by Britain’s Channel 4 News, the man behind @ShamiWitness was not an armed fighter, but a cleanshaven Indian executive named Mehdi who lives and works in the city of Bangalore.

The rise and fall of @ShamiWitness, whose Twitter account has since been deleted, illuminates the role of volunteer sympathizers in the global spread of the Islamic State’s message.’

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Father of the internet tells Russia’s Putin: Internet is not a ‘CIA project’

Guy Faulconbridge reports for Reuters:

The inventor of the World Wide Web said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was incorrect when he alleged the Internet was a project created by U.S. spies in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Putin, a former KGB spy who does not use email, has said he will not restrict Internet access for Russians, but in April he stoked concerns that the Kremlin might seek to crackdown by saying the Internet was born out of a “CIA project”.

“The Internet is not a CIA creation,” Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989 – the year that the Berlin Wall collapsed – told Reuters when asked about Putin’s CIA comment.

Berners-Lee said the Internet was invented with the help of U.S. state funding, but was spread by academics.’

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Co-founder of Pirate Bay says it should stay closed

Daniel Cooper reports for Engadget:

‘Earlier this week, Sweden’s police took down The Pirate Bay, the world’s most contentious torrent site. One person who won’t be mourning the closure is co-creator Peter Sunde, who would be happier if the site never came back. Just one month after being released from prison, Sunde took to his blog to describe his disillusionment with what the website had grown to represent and its “distasteful” adverts.

TPB may have been founded with an anarchic spirit, but Sunde feels that successive owners did nothing to improve the site or help its community. In addition to the website become “ugly” and “full of bugs,” it became plastered with adverts for porn and viagra that, when he felt couldn’t get any more “distasteful, they somehow ended up even worse.”‘

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The Camera Panopticon

Aral Balkan writes:

Leader image‘We live in a world where our new everyday things—our phones, computers, social networks—are owned and controlled by a handful of corporations that make their money by selling people not products.

This is a predatory model where you are the prey and consumer products are the bait.

Once a Spyware 2.0 company like Google has convinced you to use their products, they proceed to watch everything you do. Their goal is to learn as much about you as they can.

You are the lab rat.

They study you because the insight they gain about you is the value they sell to their customers.

Selling people is not an entirely new business model. There was once a very financially-rewarding global business built on selling people’s bodies.

We called it slavery.

Today, we frown upon that particular practice in polite company. It’s about time to ask ourselves, however, what are we to call the business of selling everything about a person that makes them who they are apart from their body?

If the question makes you feel uncomfortable, good.

If just thinking about it makes you feel uncomfortable, imagine how living within a system where this business model is a monopoly will make you feel. Then imagine what a society shaped by its ramifications will look like. Imagine its effects on equality, human rights, and democracy.

You don’t have to try too hard to imagine any of this because we are already living in the early days of just such a world today.

And yet it’s still early enough that I’m hopeful we can challenge the unfettered progress of this Silicon Valley model that is toxic to our human rights and threatens the very pillars of democracy itself.’

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Internet Freedom: The Rest of the World Gradually Becoming More Like China

Vauhini Vara reports for The New Yorker:

‘On Thursday, Freedom House published its fifth annual report on Internet freedom around the world. As in years past, China is again near the bottom of the rankings, which include sixty-five countries. Only Syria and Iran got worse scores, while Iceland and Estonia fared the best… China’s place in the rankings won’t come as a surprise to many people. The notable part is that the report suggests that, when it comes to Internet freedom, the rest of the world is gradually becoming more like China and less like Iceland. The researchers found that Internet freedom declined in thirty-six of the sixty-five countries they studied, continuing a trajectory they have noticed since they began publishing the reports in 2010.

Earp, who wrote the China section, said that authoritarian regimes might even be explicitly looking at China as a model in policing Internet communication. (Last year, she co-authored a report on the topic for the Committee to Protect Journalists.) China isn’t alone in its influence, of course. The report’s authors even said that some countries are using the U.S. National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance, which came to light following disclosures by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, “as an excuse to augment their own monitoring capabilities.” Often, the surveillance comes with little or no oversight, they said, and is directed at human-rights activists and political opponents.’

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On ‘the menace of Memes’ Spectator piece: Why you should use your critical thinking skills, whatever the information source

Another Angry Voice writes:

‘I’ll begin this article with an admission that I made a mistake. I always try to be careful that the infographics I create for social media are completely accurate (or clearly marked as satire when they’re jokes), however on Sunday 30th of November 2014 I shared an infographic made by someone else without properly fact checking it (the one in the article header).

It turns out that the image I shared was slightly misleading. The nine images of incredibly sparsely attended debates in parliament were perfectly accurate, but the two below claiming to be debates about MPs pay and expenses were just stock images of the House of Commons. The infographic in question was then cited in a Spectator article by Isabel Hartman entitled “The menace of Memes: How pictures can paint a thousand lies”.

I apologised as soon as I realised that I’d made a mistake in sharing a partially inaccurate image, but also took note of the fact that Isabel Hartman’s article was also misleading for the fact that that it implied that the image was deliberately inaccurate (made in bad faith), rather than the result of a quite obvious mistake (made in good faith), and also because it made the ludicrous argument that so few MPs bother to turn up to some debates because “it is more constructive to be outside the Chamber during those sessions”. The author casually dismissed all of the perfectly accurate pictures of incredibly sparsely attended parliamentary sessions (on the war in Afghanistan, child sex abuse, preventing knife crime, drugs laws, the effects of Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal welfare “reforms” on disabled people, the living wage, recognition of Palestine, tenancy reform, and Syrian refugees) as if they were probably just unconstructive waste-of-time type debates that might have been better had nobody bothered to attend them at all!

Had Isabel Hartman done the vaguest research on how someone might have mistakenly concluded that the two stock images were what they were claimed to be, she would have easily found this article on the BBC News website, and this article on the Daily Telegraph website which both lazily used old stock images to illustrate their articles about parliamentary debates on MPs pay and MPs expenses.’

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Why Investigative Journalist Barrett Brown Continues to be Indefinitely Imprisoned

Abby Martin speaks with Kevin Gallagher, Director of Free Barrett Brown, about the decision to delay investigative journalist Barrett Brown’s sentencing for posting a link to publically available security documents.’ (Breaking the Set)

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (Documentary)

Why We Must Fight for Free Information: Aaron Swartz’s Legacy

Abby Martin discusses computer prodigy and activist, Aaron Swartz, and what his legacy means for everyone that uses the internet.’ (Breaking the Set)

Music publishers finally pull the trigger, sue an ISP over piracy

Joe Mullin reports for Arstechnica:

‘BMG Rights Management and Round Hill Music have sued Cox Communications for copyright infringement, arguing that the Internet service provider doesn’t do enough to punish those who download music illegally.

Both BMG and Round Hill are clients of Rightscorp, a copyright enforcement agent whose business is based on threatening ISPs with a high-stakes lawsuit if they don’t forward settlement notices to users that Rightscorp believes are “repeat infringers” of copyright.

There’s little precedent for a lawsuit trying to hold an ISP responsible for users engaged in piracy. If a judge finds Cox liable for the actions of users on its network, it will have major implications for the company and the whole cable industry. It’s one thing to terminate an account on YouTube, but cable subscribers can pay well over $100 per month—and BMG and Round Hill claim that they’ve notified Cox about 200,000 repeat infringers on its network.

In their complaint (PDF), the music publishers describe the Cox network as an out-of-control den of piracy. “Today, BitTorrent systems are like the old P2P systems on steroids,” BMG lawyers write.’

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Why Google May Be More ‘Evil’ than the NSA: Interview with Taylor Lincoln of Public Citizen

Abby Martin speaks with Taylor Lincoln, Director of Research at Public Citizen’s Congressional Watch Division about a new report detailing how Google is invading users privacies and becoming the most powerful and influential political force in Washington.’ (Breaking the Set)

If you’re worried about Uber and privacy, don’t forget Lyft and Sidecar

Carmel DeAmicis writes for Gigaom:

‘Privacy concerns are front and center when it comes to Uber’s messy week, and a personal experience with the cavalier use of user data really brought that home for me.

The Uber controversy is a perfect storm of conditions: Ethically questionable leadership, aggressive threats, and a company with powerful user data. Uber has your credit card details and information on where you travel at what times. That’s a scary thought, especially when you look up the lengths it has gone to thwart those who oppose it — like its competitor Lyft and existing taxi services.

In the fall out from Emil Michael’s threats to dig up dirt on journalists, Uber has gotten a lot of tough privacy questions thrown its way. Ten of them, in fact, from Senator Al Franken, ranging from “To whom is the so-called God View tool made available and why?” to “Why aren’t these [privacy] standards set out for customers?”

Uber has been rightfully targeted, because its “at-all-costs” business mentality is what makes the privacy issue scary, especially for those who might be on Uber’s blacklist. But these are questions we should be levying at all the new transportation connection companies, not just Uber. Lyft, Sidecar, Flywheel, Curb, Hailo, and their ilk have similar technology and nearly identical use cases to Uber.’

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The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed

Adrian Chen reports for Wired:

[…] So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.

This work is increasingly done in the Philippines. A former US colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural ties to the United States, which content moderation companies say helps Filipinos determine what Americans find offensive. And moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages. Ryan Cardeno, a former contractor for Microsoft in the Philippines, told me that he made $500 per month by the end of his three-and-a-half-year tenure with outsourcing firm Sykes. Last year, Cardeno was offered $312 per month by another firm to moderate content for Facebook, paltry even by industry standards.’

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