Archives November 13, 2018

Australia’s near-real-time facial recognition system, chilling effects

Civil rights groups have warned a vast, powerful system allowing the near real-time matching of citizens’ facial images risks a “profound chilling effect” on protest and dissent.

The technology – known in shorthand as “the capability” – collects and pools facial imagery from various state and federal government sources, including driver’s licences, passports and visas.

The biometric information can then rapidly – almost in real time – be compared with other sources, such as CCTV footage, to match identities.

The system, chiefly controlled by the federal Department of Home Affairs, is designed to give intelligence and security agencies a powerful tool to deter identity crime, and quickly identify terror and crime suspects.

But it has prompted serious concern among academics, human rights groups and privacy experts. The system sweeps up and processes citizens’ sensitive biometric information regardless of whether they have committed or are suspected of an offence.

Chinese ‘Gait Recognition’ Tech IDs People By How They Walk; Police Have Started Using It on Streets of Beijing and Shanghai

Already used by police on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, “gait recognition” is part of a push across China to develop artificial-intelligence and data-driven surveillance that is raising concern about how far the technology will go. Huang Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix, said that its system can identify people from up to 50 meters (165 feet) away, even with their back turned or face covered. This can fill a gap in facial recognition, which needs close-up, high-resolution images of a person’s face to work. “You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Huang said in an interview in his Beijing office. “Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

Blockchain-based elections would be a disaster for democracy

If you talk to experts on election security they’ll tell you that we’re nowhere close to being ready for online voting. “Mobile voting is a horrific idea,” said election security expert Joe Hall when I asked him about a West Virginia experiment with blockchain-based mobile voting back in August.

But on Tuesday, The New York Times published an opinion piece claiming the opposite.

“Building a workable, scalable, and inclusive online voting system is now possible, thanks to blockchain technologies,” writes Alex Tapscott, whom the Times describes as co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute.

Tapscott is wrong—and dangerously so. Online voting would be a huge threat to the integrity of our elections—and to public faith in election outcomes.

Tapscott focuses on the idea that blockchain technology would allow people to vote anonymously while still being able to verify that their vote was included in the final total. Even assuming this is mathematically possible—and I think it probably is—this idea ignores the many, many ways that foreign governments could compromise an online vote without breaking the core cryptographic algorithms.

For example, foreign governments could hack into the computer systems that governments use to generate and distribute cryptographic credentials to voters. They could bribe election officials to supply them with copies of voters’ credentials. They could hack into the PCs or smartphones voters use to cast their votes. They could send voters phishing emails to trick them into revealing their voting credentials—or simply trick them into thinking they’ve cast a vote when they haven’t.

Energy cost of ‘mining’ bitcoin more than twice that of copper or gold

The amount of energy required to “mine” one dollar’s worth of bitcoin is more than twice that required to mine the same value of copper, gold or platinum, according to a new paper, suggesting that the virtual work that underpins bitcoin, ethereum and similar projects is more similar to real mining than anyone intended.

One dollar’s worth of bitcoin takes about 17 megajoules of energy to mine, according to researchers from the Oak Ridge Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, compared with four, five and seven megajoules for copper, gold and platinum.

Other cryptocurrencies also fair poorly in comparison, the researchers write in the journal Nature Sustainability, ascribing a cost-per-dollar of 7MJ for ethereum and 14MJ for the privacy focused cryptocurrency monero. But all the cryptocurrencies examined come off well compared with aluminium, which takes an astonishing 122MJ to mine one dollar’s worth of ore.

Facebook Allowed Advertisers to Target Users Interested in “White Genocide”—Even in Wake of Pittsburgh Massacre

Apparently fueled by anti-Semitism and the bogus narrative that outside forces are scheming to exterminate the white race, Robert Bowers murdered 11 Jewish congregants as they gathered inside their Pittsburgh synagogue, federal prosecutors allege. But despite long-running international efforts to debunk the idea of a “white genocide,” Facebook was still selling advertisers the ability to market to those with an interest in that myth just days after the bloodshed.

A simple search of Facebook pages also makes plain that there are tens of thousands of users with a very earnest interest in “white genocide,” shown through the long list of groups with names like “Stop White South African Genocide,” “White Genocide Watch,” and “The last days of the white man.” Images with captions like “Don’t Be A Race Traitor” and “STOP WHITE GENOCIDE IN SOUTH AFRICA” are freely shared in such groups, providing a natural target for anyone who might want to pay to promote deliberately divisive and incendiary hate-based content.

Only 22% of Americans Now Trust Facebook’s Handling of Personal Info

Facebook is the least trustworthy of all major tech companies when it comes to safeguarding user data, according to a new national poll conducted for Fortune, highlighting the major challenges the company faces following a series of recent privacy blunders. Only 22% of Americans said that they trust Facebook with their personal information, far less than Amazon (49%), Google (41%), Microsoft (40%), and Apple (39%).

In question after question, respondents ranked the company last in terms of leadership, ethics, trust, and image… Public mistrust extended to Zuckerberg, Facebook’s public face during its privacy crisis and who once said that Facebook has “a responsibility to protect your information, If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” The company subsequently fell victim to a hack but continued operating as usual, including debuting a video-conferencing device intended to be used in people’s living rooms or kitchens and that further extends Facebook’s reach into more areas outside of personal computers and smartphones. Only 59% of respondents said they were “at least somewhat confident” in Zuckerberg’s leadership in the ethical use of data and privacy information, ranking him last among four other tech CEOS…

As for Facebook, the social networking giant may have a difficult time regaining public trust because of its repeated problems. Consumers are more likely to forgive a company if they believe a problem was an aberration rather than a systemic failure by its leadership, Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema said.

The article concludes that “For now, the public isn’t in a forgiving mood when it comes to Facebook and Zuckerberg.”

What Your Phone is Telling Wall Street

Your phone knows where you shop, where you work and where you sleep. Hedge funds are very interested in such data, so they are buying it.

When Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the car maker would work around the clock to boost production of its Model 3 sedan, the number crunchers at Thasos Group decided to watch. They circled Tesla’s 370 acres in Fremont, Calif., on an online map, creating a digital corral to isolate smartphone location signals that emanated from within it. Thasos, which leases databases of trillions of geographic coordinates collected by smartphone apps, set its computers to find the pings created at Tesla’s factory, then shared the data with its hedge-fund clients [Editor’s note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], showing the overnight shift swelled 30% from June to October.

Last month, many on Wall Street were surprised when Tesla disclosed a rare quarterly profit, the result of Model 3 production that had nearly doubled in three months. Shares shot up 9.1% the next day. Thasos is at the vanguard of companies trying to help traders get ahead of stock moves like that using so-called alternative data. Such suppliers might examine mine slag heaps from outer space, analyze credit-card spending data or sort through construction permits. Thasos’s specialty is spewing out of your smartphone.

Thasos gets data from about 1,000 apps, many of which need to know a phone’s location to be effective, like those providing weather forecasts, driving directions or the whereabouts of the nearest ATM. Smartphone users, wittingly or not, share their location when they use such apps. Before Thasos gets the data, suppliers scrub it of personally identifiable information, Mr. Skibiski said. It is just time-stamped strings of longitude and latitude. But with more than 100 million phones providing such coordinates, Thasos says it can paint detailed pictures of the ebb and flow of people, and thus their money.

When Tech Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself

Algorithms are kind of running where 2 billion people spend their time. Seventy percent of what people watch on YouTube is driven by recommendations from the algorithm. People think that what you’re watching on YouTube is a choice. People are sitting there, they sit there, they think, and then they choose. But that’s not true. Seventy percent of what people are watching is the recommended videos on the right hand side, which means 70 percent of 1.9 billion users, that’s more than the number of followers of Islam, about the number followers of Christianity, of what they’re looking at on YouTube for 60 minutes a day—that’s the average time people spend on YouTube. So you got 60 minutes, and 70 percent is populated by a computer. The machine is out of control.