One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news — most recently the one selling a $700 juicer — and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.
But don’t be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn’t just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren’t just funding big things — they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.
At the same time, the American government’s appetite for funding big things — for scientific research and out-of-this-world technology and infrastructure programs — keeps falling, and it may decline further under President Trump.
This sets up a looming complication: Technology giants, not the government, are building the artificially intelligent future. And unless the government vastly increases how much it spends on research into such technologies, it is the corporations that will decide how to deploy them.
In the early years of the internet, it was revolutionary to have a world of information just a click away from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Many hoped this inherently democratic technology could lead to better-informed citizens more easily participating in debate, elections and public discourse.
Today, though, many observers are concerned that search algorithms and social media are undermining the quality of online information people see. They worry that bad information may be weakening democracy in the digital age.
The problems include online services conveying fake news, splitting users into “filter bubbles” of like-minded people and enabling users to unwittingly lock themselves up in virtual echo chambers that reinforce their own biases.
These concerns are much discussed, but have not yet been thoroughly studied. What research does exist has typically been limited to a single platform, such Twitter or Facebook. Our study of search and politics in seven nations – which surveyed the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain in January 2017 – found these concerns to be overstated, if not wrong. In fact, many internet users trust search to help them find the best information, check other sources and discover new information in ways that can burst filter bubbles and open echo chambers.
When the storm turns out to be less severe than the warnings, there’s always a sigh of relief–and maybe a bit of over-confidence after the fact. If fans of the European Union felt better after populist Geert Wilders came up short in the Dutch elections in March, they also took heart from the absence of anti-E.U. firebrands among the leading contenders for this fall’s German elections. Then came May 7. The victory of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential elections signaled that “the season of growth of populism has ended,” Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said on May 8.
Not so fast. Europeans will soon remember that elections are never the end of anything–they’re a beginning. And whether the issue is unelected Eurocrats’ forcing voters to abide by rules they don’t like or fears that borders are insecure, there are good reasons to doubt that the anti-E.U. fever has broken. France’s Macron now faces powerful opposition on both the far right and the far left. Hungary and Poland are becoming increasingly illiberal. Brexit negotiations are getting ugly. And resentment toward the E.U. is still rising throughout Europe.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump may be pushing what increasingly resembles a traditional Republican agenda, but polls show that his supporters are still eager for deeper disruption. Trump’s embrace of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egypt’s Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte suggests a lasting affinity with aggressive strongmen. His chief adviser and nationalist muse, Stephen Bannon, may be under fire, but he’s still there. The Trump presidency has only just begun.
In short, nationalism is alive and well, partly because the problems that provoked it are still with us. Growing numbers of people in the world’s wealthiest countries still fear that globalization serves only elites who care nothing about nations and borders. Moderate politicians still offer few effective solutions.
Ahead of the British general election on June 8, Facebook has deleted tens of thousands of accounts in Britain in its ongoing battle with “fake news” the AP reports. The campaign is part of Facebook’s evolving response to accusations the group was responsible for influencing the US presidential election, through the spread of fake news stories and “filter bubbles”.
“People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news,” said Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK. “To help people spot false news, we are showing tips to everyone . . . on how to identify if something they see is false.”
Simon Milner, the tech firm’s U.K. director of policy, says the platform wants to get to the “root of the problem” and is working with outside organizations to fact check and analyze content around the election. Milner added that Facebook is “doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news.”
Additionally, on Monday, the social announced a national print advertising campaign in the UK to “educate the British public” about fake news, as part of a concerted global effort to crack down on the false information epidemic it has seen on its platform. The ads suggest that readers should be “skeptical of headlines,” and to “look closely at the URL.” The company says it has made improvements to help them detect fake news accounts more effectively.
Facebook must remove postings deemed as hate speech, an Austrian court has ruled, in a legal victory for campaigners who want to force social media companies to combat online “trolling”.
The case — brought by Austria’s Green party over insults to its leader — has international ramifications as the court ruled the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling.
The case comes as legislators around Europe are considering ways of forcing Facebook, Google, Twitter and others to rapidly remove hate speech or incitement to violence.
Germany’s cabinet approved a plan last month to fine social networks up to 50 million euros ($55 million) if they fail to remove such postings quickly and the European Union is considering new EU-wide rules.
Look, let’s just start with the basics: there are some bad people out there. Even if the majority of people are nice and well-meaning, there are always going to be some people who are not. And sometimes, those people are going to use the internet. Given that as a starting point, at the very least, you’d think we could deal with that calmly and rationally, and recognize that maybe we shouldn’t blame the tools for the fact that some not very nice people happen to use them. Unfortunately, it appears to be asking a lot these days to expect our politicians to do this. Instead, they (and many others) rush out immediately to point the fingers of blame for the fact that these “not nice” people exist, and rather than point the finger of blame at the not nice people, they point at… the internet services they use.
The latest example of this is the UK Parliament that has released a report on “hate crime” that effectively blames internet companies and suggests they should be fined because not nice people use them.
[…] This is the kind of thing that sounds good to people who (a) don’t understand how these things actually work and (b) don’t spend any time thinking through the consequences of such actions.
First off, it’s easy for politicians and others to sit there and assume that “bad” content is obviously bad. The problem here is twofold: first, there is so much content showing up that spotting the “bad” stuff is not nearly as easy as people assume, and second, because there’s so much content, it’s often difficult to understand the context enough to recognize if something is truly “bad.” People who think this stuff is obvious or easy are ignorant. They may be well-meaning, but they’re ignorant.
In June 2013, a young American postgraduate called Sophie was passing through London when she called up the boss of a firm where she’d previously interned. The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.
“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”
Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”
Why would anyone want to intern with a psychological warfare firm, I ask him. And he looks at me like I am mad. “It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. You were working with the president of Kenya or Ghana or wherever. It’s not like election campaigns in the west. You got to do all sorts of crazy shit.”
On that day in June 2013, Sophie met up with SCL’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, and gave him the germ of an idea. “She said, ‘You really need to get into data.’ She really drummed it home to Alexander. And she suggested he meet this firm that belonged to someone she knew about through her father.”
Who’s her father?
Eric Schmidt – the chairman of Google?
“Yes. And she suggested Alexander should meet this company called Palantir.”
I appeared at an event in New York this week with Edward Snowden to discuss how computers can be a tool for liberation instead of coercive control. The resounding optimistic feeling was that while networks can let Facebook gut our future, they can also be used to seize it.
I appeared at an event in New York this week with Edward Snowden to discuss how computers can be a tool for liberation instead of coercive control. The resounding optimistic feeling was that while networks can let Facebook gut our future, they can also be used to seize it.
These institutions use the information to circumvent hard won constitutional protections. Western military contractors export these tools to oppressive dictatorships, creating “turnkey surveillance states”. In Ethiopia, the ruling junta has used hacking tools to break into the computers of exiled dissidents in the USA. The information they stole was used to target activists in Ethiopia for arbitrary detention and torture.
In my science fiction novel Walkaway, I see an optimistic escape from the looming surveillance disaster. It imagines people oppressed by surveillance might “walk away” and found a parallel society where citizens’ technological know-how creates a world of fluid, improvisational technological play.
The UK government has secretly drawn up more details of its new bulk surveillance powers – awarding itself the ability to monitor Brits’ live communications, and insert encryption backdoors by the backdoor.
In its draft technical capability notices paper [PDF], all communications companies – including phone networks and ISPs – will be obliged to provide real-time access to the full content of any named individual within one working day, as well as any “secondary data” relating to that person.
That includes encrypted content – which means that UK organizations will not be allowed to introduce true end-to-end encryption of their users’ data but will be legally required to introduce a backdoor to their systems so the authorities can read any and all communications.
In addition, comms providers will be required to make bulk surveillance possible by introducing systems that can provide real-time interception of 1 in 10,000 of its customers. Or in other words, the UK government will be able to simultaneously spy on 6,500 folks in Blighty at any given moment.
Political advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients is a greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, according to the director for a leading fact-checking charity in the UK.
So-called “dark ads” have emerged as a method of advertising that utilises data obtained by the likes of Facebook and Google to customise political campaigns.
They can be served directly to users of Facebook and via Google’s widely used double-click technology which serves ads to millions of websites.
These two giants account for around a half of the UK £10bn a year digital advertising market.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is launching a crowd-funded news service where supporters can pay for a say in the topics being covered.
The internet entrepreneur has created Wikitribune, a news initiative which says it will see professional journalists and community contributors produce “fact-checked, global news stories”.
The new site will be free to use, but also accept donations from monthly “supporters” who will then be able to suggest topics to be covered – while the site also says it will publish full transcripts of interviews where possible as part of transparency plans.
“Wikitribune is news by the people and for the people,” Wales said.
US President Donald Trump’s decision to launch strikes against Syria in the wake of a major chemical weapons attack provoked outrage from the far-right groups who were his most aggressive supporters. As rumors of the impending strikes broke, they launched an online campaign claiming that the chemical attack had been a hoax.
The hashtag followed two days of reporting by the so-called “alt-right” — anti-Islam, anti-immigrant, socially conservative and, until the strikes, vociferously pro-Trump — that the chemical attack had been staged.
The DFRLab has traced the origins of the story, and found that the alt-right coverage was based on report in a propaganda outlet linked to the Assad regime.
Inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has pointed to the spread of “fake news” as one of three challenges stopping his creation from being “a tool which serves all of humanity”.
The exchange of personal data for free content and a lack of transparency around political advertising were also highlighted as areas of concern for the computer scientist.
In an open letter on the 28th anniversary of his original proposal for the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee set out a five-year plan to tackle these three “complex problems”.
Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been banned.
The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials who were trying to clamp down on the ride-hailing service. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities like Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea.
Greyball was part of a program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The program, including Greyball, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.
Greyball and the VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. The four spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation by Uber.
To the untrained eye the Daily Mail may appear to be a newspaper, but it’s no such thing. It’s an extreme-right propaganda empire that has been owned and operated by the tax-dodging billionaire Harmsworth family for generations.
I’m sure we can all think of examples that demonstrate that the Daily Mail is savagely right-wing propaganda rag: Their support for Hitler and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s; their homophobic rants; their smearing of dead war heroes; their constant anti-immigrant hatemongering; their support for extreme-right candidates on the continent; their blaming a murder victim for their own death; their habit of mocking the gullibility of their own readers; their support for Theresa May’s effort to scrap parliamentary sovereignty and turn herself into an all-powerful autocrat who can make and repeal laws as they please.
Interestingly Wikipedia have cottoned on to what an incredibly dodgy extreme-right propaganda empire the Daily Mail is, and after deliberation, the consensus amongst the community of Wikipedia editors is that the Daily Mail is an unreliable source that should no longer be used as a reference (unless absolutely necessary).
Jeff Schechtman recently spoke with Mara Einstein, professor, independent marketing consultant and the author of a new book titled: Black Ops Advertising: Native Ads, Content, Marketing, and the Covert World of the Digital Sell. (Who What Why)
Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh speaks to Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, which has announced that it will be moving a copy of its archive to Canada in the wake of Trump winning the 2016 election. The archive is one of the world’s largest public digital libraries. Part of the site includes the Wayback Machine, which preserves old websites, allowing researchers to access pages deleted by politicians and others. Laurie Allen of #DataRefuge Project also briefly joins the discussion to talk about climate change. (Democracy Now!)
On New Year’s Eve, our president-elect unleashed a tweet in honor of the coming year: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”
His most ardent followers thrill to this display of full-on juvenile testosterone. They thrill at what they approvingly call “trolling” by the “madman.” They tweet pictures of Pepe the Frog jubilantly, figuratively slapping each other on the back over the audacity of their Big Man on Campus.
This is the “new conservatism”: Elicit a reaction.
There’s no follow-up. There’s no design. And truth is unimportant. The new “conservatism” promoted by Trump and his most ardent imitators is a teenage slapfight with no general purpose other than to deliberately offend, thereby making yourself appear more powerful. Remember when Trump said that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s murder? That was trolling. And when Cruz responded, Trump’s followers laughed, called Trump a “madman,” and suggested that Cruz was a weakling for letting such things get under his skin.
Is ‘the front page of the internet’ being gamed by vested interests? In this story, Phil Harper shows how easy it is to buy your way onto Reddit, the world’s most popular and influential forum. A more in-depth article by Jay McGregor can be found at Forbes titled: Reddit For Sale: How We Made Viral Fake News For $200. (Point)
No victim has come forward. There’s no investigation. And physical evidence? That doesn’t exist either.
But thousands of people are convinced that a paedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party is operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant.
The story riveted fringes of Twitter – nearly a million messages were sent last month using the term “pizzagate”.
So how did this fake story take hold amongst alt-right Trump supporters and other Hillary Clinton opponents?
This week a law was passed that silently rips privacy from the modern world. It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act.
Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.
The hundreds of chilling mass surveillance programmes revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 were – we assumed – the result of a failure of the democratic process. Snowden’s bravery finally gave Parliament and the public the opportunity to scrutinise this industrial-scale spying and bring the state back into check.
But, in an environment of devastatingly poor political opposition, the Government has actually extended state spying powers beyond those exposed by Snowden – setting a “world-leading” precedent.
- UK politicians approve ‘extreme surveillance’ law
- Why the Investigatory Powers Act is a privacy disaster waiting to happen
- Snooper’s Charter is set to become law: how the Investigatory Powers Bill will affect you
- UN privacy chief: UK surveillance bill is ‘worse than scary’
- Facebook, Google, Twitter unite to attack ‘snoopers’ charter’
A global conference of senior military and intelligence officials taking place in London [last week] revealed how governments increasingly view social media as “a new front in warfare” and a tool for the Armed Forces.
The overriding theme of the event is the need to exploit social media as a source of intelligence on civilian populations and enemies; as well as a propaganda medium to influence public opinion.
A report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last month revealed how a CIA-funded tool, Geofeedia, was already being used by police to conduct surveillance of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to monitor activists and protesters.
Although Facebook and Twitter both quickly revoked Geofeedia’s access to their social feeds, the conference proves that social media surveillance remains a rapidly growing industry with no regulatory oversight. And its biggest customers are our own governments.
And it’s true, he does have a ton of followers on Facebook and Twitter. But not all of those followers are human. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, automated networks of social-media bots spread erroneous information to potential voters—often to the benefit of Trump.
According to a new memo compiling data from the election by a team of researchers including Oxford University Professor Philip Howard, automated pro-Trump activity outnumbered automated pro-Hillary Clinton activity by a 5:1 ratio by Election Day. And many of those auto-Trumpkins were busy spewing lies and fake news: that Democrats could vote on a different day than Republicans; that Clinton had a stroke during the final week of the election; and that an FBI agent associated with her email investigation was involved in a murder-suicide.
In the weeks before election day, pro-Trump, alt-right trolls have leveraged the scale of social media to spread misinformation aimed at keeping Clinton voters away from the polls — most prominently by disseminating official-looking, but totally bogus, campaign ads that encourage people to vote for Clinton by text message. There’s been a growing response to the pro-Trump misinformation campaign on Twitter and other social platforms — Twitter yesterday released an official video debunking the vote-by-text nonsense, for example. But get ready for even more, because the people behind them are hardly out of ideas.
Posts on 4chan’s politically incorrect message board — a nerve center of the alt-right from which many of these posts appear to have originated — detail a multi-pronged campaign of election day social media deception and mayhem, intending to confuse, slow, and disenfranchise Clinton voters.
[…] Two technologies have loomed so large in this election that without them, we would almost undoubtedly have had an entirely different campaign season.
Without Twitter, Donald Trump would not be the Republican candidate. Without email, Hillary Clinton might be able to sleep tonight.
We often forget that the ability to record candidates is itself a technology. Whether it’s Obama’s clinging to guns and religion, Clinton’s basket of deplorables, Romney’s 47 percent, or Trump’s grab them by the p-word, semi-private recordings have leaked into the public arena, angering and polarizing the populace.
Even texting has influenced this election. Former United States Congressman and, apparently, full-time pervert Anthony Weiner texted sexually charged messages to an underage girl.
As we all now know, just a week before the election, a laptop seized by the FBI during that investigation was found to have emails possibly related to the Hillary Clinton investigation. Prior to their divorce, Weiner had been married to Clinton’s longtime aide, Huma Abedin and, apparently, the laptop was shared by the couple.
That’s before we even discuss the worldwide echo chamber that we’ve all built together: YouTube videos, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook rants we’ve filmed, written, posted, tweeted, retweeted, and shared.
[…] Over the past year, the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) has experienced a digital gold rush as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com. They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US.
The young Macedonians who run these sites say they don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of US display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles. Several teens and young men who run these sites told BuzzFeed News that they learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.
As a result, this strange hub of pro-Trump sites in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is now playing a significant role in propagating the kind of false and misleading content that was identified in a recent BuzzFeed News analysis of hyperpartisan Facebook pages. These sites open a window into the economic incentives behind producing misinformation specifically for the wealthiest advertising markets and specifically for Facebook, the world’s largest social network, as well as within online advertising networks such as Google AdSense.
If you use Facebook, or Twitter, have a Wi-Fi connection, watch television or have been to an office Halloween party, you’ve probably encountered them: internet memes.
These shareable, sometimes pithy and often puerile units of culture have emerged as the lingua franca of the 2016 election, and have given the American people an entirely new way of articulating their beliefs. Clinton’s top tweet is a meme. Trump’s taco bowl became one. Through memes, Ted Cruz was “unmasked” as the Zodiac killer. Jeb Bush’s limp plea for applause got him Vined into oblivion. Bernie Sanders shared a moment with a bird that blossomed into something out of Walt Disney’s long-lost Marxist phase.
Memes can be fun, or they can be dumb – but as an emerging medium, they haven’t provoked a lot of debate or analysis. In fact, they seem to defy scrutiny.
And slowly, before anyone can even take note, memes are ruining democracy.
If your Facebook News Feed is anything like mine, it’s currently a flood of check-ins at somewhere your friends have probably never been. Swarms of people are checking in at Standing Rock, North Dakota, the site of the ongoing protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The check-in is an act of protest, but also intended as a form of cover for the people dedicated enough to show up in person.
On Monday, a rumor spread across the web that police in North Dakota were using Facebook to monitor activists protesting the pipeline’s construction. Tensions between police and protesters have been mounting for months in Standing Rock as officers have used pepper spray, tasers, and beanbag rounds against protesters, and arrested them in droves. The Orwellian rumor echoed the revelation from earlier this year that police had carried out secret surveillance of protesters with Black Lives Matter.
Imagine if a report came out showing evidence that Wells Fargo violated the Fair Housing Act by hiding certain home listings from African-Americans. Every politician in Washington would condemn the bank for illegal practices. The Justice Department would be inundated with letters demanding prosecution. Congressional committee chairs would schedule hearings to give members an opportunity to yell at executives. Wells Fargo would put out a sober apology expressing deep sorrow and vowing to make everything right. In other words, we have a context for bank misconduct, and everyone dutifully plays their part.
When the same circumstance occurs with Facebook in the role of the villain, however, nobody knows how to react. There are no assigned roles when a tech firm with a glimmering reputation creates a controversy. We implicitly give them a break, regardless of the merits. That’s a bias we should probably correct.
On Friday, ProPublica revealed that Facebook allows advertisers a tool that enables them to exclude “ethnic affinities” like African-Americans or Hispanics from viewing their ads. (Facebook does not ask users about their race, but collects data based on posts they like or comment on.) This goes well beyond targeting different styles of advertising to certain groups, which is common. Instead, it specifically prevents a black or Hispanic Facebook user from seeing a particular ad.
Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman speak to Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, about the $85 billion proposed mega-merger of telecommunications giant AT&T and Time Warner. They also speak to Adam Schwartz, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about U.S. police departments paying AT&T millions to spy on Americans. (Democracy Now!)