Archives September 5, 2021

How Far Can You Go to Resist Filmers of a Viral Video?

Recently I saw eight seconds of video that capture this problem in its most extreme form. A boy and a girl, who appear to be of high school age, are walking into Panda Express when a third teenager with blond hair stops them in the doorway. He brings with him the energy of the hustler or the man-on-the-street interview host, and the couple are temporarily frozen, caught between suspicion and courtesy. It is a space where things could go either way. “Hey, hold on, excuse me — I have something really important to ask you,” the blond kid says to the girl. “The moment I saw you, my eyes were just — oh, my God, I love you, please could — bleagh!” The “bleagh” is the sound he makes when the other boy punches him in the face…

But perhaps what is most remarkable is the distinct moment of resignation that he and his girlfriend share when they realize what the blond kid is doing. Around the time he gets to “my eyes,” she turns away and steps inside, while Overalls Kid calmly sets his smoothie on the ground in preparation to jack his interlocutor in the mouth. The sound of the impact is meaty. The video ends with both of them stumbling out of the frame, Blond Kid reeling and Overalls Kid winding up for another blow. It’s an efficiently cut bit of action that rewards repeat viewings, but it left me with one question: How do we feel about that punch?

I think we can agree that a punch would not be justified if Blond Kid were professing his love sincerely. But he isn’t. He’s professing his love while an unidentified fourth party records the whole thing, presumably as part of the “hit on another guy’s girlfriend” internet challenge. In this context, he is using other people as props, a bad behavior that society should discourage. But what are we willing to condone in order to discourage it? Our collective culture has just begun to decide how we feel about this kind of activity, which has been invented by new technology and will only become more prevalent in the future.

The article ultimately argues that internet video apps belong to generation Z “the way heroin belongs to junkies. Seen from this perspective, Overalls Kid is part of a history of violent resistance to foreign influence that Americans will recognize in everything from the Boston Tea Party to Al Qaeda to the Ewoks.

“Our reams of fretting essays about how much the kids love phones tend to ignore who gave them phones in the first place.”

Facebook Has Trackers in 25% of Websites and 61% of the Most Popular Apps

Megan Borovicka forgot all about her Facebook account after 2013, reports the Washington Post. “But Facebook never forgot about her.”
The 42-year-old Oakland, California, lawyer never picked any “friends,” posted any status updates, liked any photos or even opened the Facebook app on her phone. Yet over the last decade, Facebook has used an invisible data vacuum to suction up very specific details about her life — from her brand of underwear to where she received her paycheck… It isn’t just the Facebook app that’s gobbling up your information. Facebook is so big, it has convinced millions of other businesses, apps and websites to also snoop on its behalf. Even when you’re not actively using Facebook. Even when you’re not online. Even, perhaps, if you’ve never had a Facebook account.

Here’s how it works: Facebook provides its business partners tracking software they embed in apps, websites and loyalty programs. Any business or group that needs to do digital advertising has little choice but to feed your activities into Facebook’s vacuum: your grocer, politicians and, yes, even the paywall page for this newspaper’s website. Behind the scenes, Facebook takes in this data and tries to match it up to your account. It sits under your name in a part of your profile your friends can’t see, but Facebook uses to shape your experience online. Among the 100 most popular smartphone apps, you can find Facebook software in 61 of them, app research firm Sensor Tower told me. Facebook also has trackers in about 25 percent of websites, according to privacy software maker Ghostery…

Facebook got a notice when I opened Hulu to watch TV. Facebook knew when I went shopping for paint, a rocking chair and fancy beans. Facebook learned I read the websites What To Expect, Lullaby Trust and Happiest Baby. Over two weeks, Facebook tracked me on at least 95 different apps, websites and businesses, and those are just the ones I know about. It was as if Facebook had hired a private eye to prepare a dossier about my life. Why does Facebook think that’s okay? The company emailed me answers about how its tracking technology works, but declined my requests to interview its chief privacy officer or other executives about its alleged monopoly….

Who in their right mind thought they were signing up for this much surveillance back when they first joined Facebook?

The article points out that in 2014 Facebook began allowing its advertisers to target users based on websites they’d visited…and now also gathers more data about users from other companies. And “While many companies were using browser cookies, which could be easily cleared or blocked, Facebook tied what it learned to real identities — the names on our Facebook profiles.” And beyond that, companies “can report other identifying information to Facebook like your email to help it figure out who you are… If you’ve never had a Facebook account at all? It may still be watching.”

It’s a lucrative business, the Post points out. “In 2013, the average American’s data was worth about $19 per year in advertising sales to Facebook, according to its financial statements. In 2020, your data was worth $164 per year.”

What does Facebook know about your off-Facebook activity? You can find out at this URL.

If you just want to stop them from giving this information to advertisers, the right side of that page has an option to “Clear History — Disconnect off-Facebook activity history from your account.” But you then have to also click “More Options” and then “Manage Future Activity” to also stop them from later matching up more of your off-Facebook activity to your profile for advertisers.

If you try to select it, Facebook warns what you’ll be missing — that “Keeping your future off-Facebook activity saved with your account allows us to personalize your experience.” And proceeding anyways then generates a popup reminding you that “We’ll still receive activity from the businesses and organizations you visit. It may be used for measurement purposes and to make improvements to our ads systems, but it will be disconnected from your account.”

And apparently your activity on Oculus isn’t covered, and will still remain connected to your Facebook account.

10 US Government Agencies Plan Expanded Use of Facial Recognition

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government “plans to expand its use of facial recognition to pursue criminals and scan for threats, an internal survey has found, even as concerns grow about the technology’s potential for contributing to improper surveillance and false arrests.”
Ten federal agencies — the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs — told the Government Accountability Office they intend to grow their facial recognition capabilities by 2023, the GAO said in a report posted to its website Tuesday. Most of the agencies use face-scanning technology so employees can unlock their phones and laptops or access buildings, though a growing number said they are using the software to track people and investigate crime. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, said it wants to use it to monitor live surveillance feeds at its facilities and send an alert if it spots any faces also found on a watch list…

The GAO said in June that 20 federal agencies have used either internally developed or privately run facial recognition software, even though 13 of those agencies said they did not “have awareness” of which private systems they used and had therefore “not fully assessed the potential risks … to privacy and accuracy.” In the current report, the GAO said several agencies, including the Justice Department, the Air Force and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reported that they had used facial recognition software from Clearview AI, a firm that has faced lawsuits from privacy groups and legal demands from Google and Facebook after it copied billions of facial images from social media without their approval… Many federal agencies said they used the software by requesting that officials in state and local governments run searches on their own software and report the results. Many searches were routed through a nationwide network of “fusion centers,” which local police and federal investigators use to share information on potential threats or terrorist attacks…

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who have called the technology “the way of the future,” said earlier this month that they had run facial recognition scans on more than 88 million travelers at airports, cruise ports and border crossings. The systems, the officials said, have detected 850 impostors since 2018 — or about 1 in every 103,000 faces scanned.

QR codes replace service staff as pandemic spurs automation in US

American workers in manufacturing plants and distribution centres have long worried that their employers would find ways to replace them with robots and artificial intelligence, but the Covid-19 crisis has brought that threat to service workers, too. Businesses are increasingly turning to automated tools for customer service tasks long done by low-wage staff. But rather than robots, it is the ubiquitous QR matrix bar codes that are replacing humans [Editor’s note: the link may be paywalled]. Financial Times:
Many restaurants have begun to experiment with QR codes and order management systems such as Toast that allow diners to order food to their table from their phones instead of with human servers. Grocery stores have increased their investments in self-checkout kiosks that replace human cashiers, and more convenience stores including Circle K are experimenting with the computer vision technology pioneered by Amazon Go to allow customers to make purchases without standing in a checkout line at all. The shifts mean that some of the 1.7m leisure and hospitality jobs and 270,000 retail jobs the US economy has lost since its February 2020 high are unlikely to return.

Seemingly Normal Lightning Cable Will Leak Everything You Type

It looks like a Lightning cable, it works like a Lightning cable, and I can use it to connect my keyboard to my Mac. But it is actually a malicious cable that can record everything I type, including passwords, and wirelessly send that data to a hacker who could be more than a mile away. This is the new version of a series of penetration testing tools made by the security researcher known as MG. MG previously demoed an earlier version of the cables for Motherboard at the DEF CON hacking conference in 2019. Shortly after that, MG said he had successfully moved the cables into mass production, and cybersecurity vendor Hak5 started selling the cables. But the more recent cables come in new physical variations, including Lightning to USB-C, and include more capabilities for hackers to play with.

“There were people who said that Type C cables were safe from this type of implant because there isn’t enough space. So, clearly, I had to prove that wrong. :),” MG told Motherboard in an online chat. The OMG Cables, as they’re called, work by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot itself that a hacker can connect to from their own device. From here, an interface in an ordinary web browser lets the hacker start recording keystrokes. The malicious implant itself takes up around half the length of the plastic shell, MG said. MG said that the new cables now have geofencing features, where a user can trigger or block the device’s payloads based on the physical location of the cable. “It pairs well with the self-destruct feature if an OMG Cable leaves the scope of your engagement and you do not want your payloads leaking or being accidentally run against random computers,” he said. “We tested this out in downtown Oakland and were able to trigger payloads at over 1 mile,” he added. He said that the Type C cables allow the same sort of attacks to be carried out against smartphones and tablets. Various other improvements include being able to change keyboard mappings, the ability to forge the identity of specific USB devices, such as pretending to be a device that leverages a particular vulnerability on a system.

Weapon That “Stops You From Talking”

The U.S. Navy has successfully invented a special electronic device that is designed to stop people from talking. Interesting Engineering reports:
A form of non-lethal weapon, the new electronic device effectively repeats a speaker’s own voice back at them, and only them, while they attempt to talk. It was developed, and patented back in 2019 but has only recently been discovered, according to a report by the New Scientist. The main idea of the weapon is to disorientate a target so much that they will be unable to communicate effectively with other people.

Called acoustic hailing and disruption (AHAD), the weapon is able to record speech and instantly broadcast it at a target in milliseconds. Much like an annoying sibling, this action will disrupt the target’s concentration, and, in theory, discourage them from continuing to speak. As for the technical details of the device, a quick review of its patent is very interesting indeed. “According to an illustrative embodiment of the present disclosure, a target’s speech is directed back to them twice, once immediately and once after a short delay. This delay creates delayed auditory feedback (DAF), which alters the speaker’s normal perception of their own voice. In normal speech, a speaker hears their own words with a slight delay, and the body is accustomed to this feedback. By introducing another audio feedback source with a sufficiently long delay, the speaker’s concentration is disrupted and it becomes difficult to continue speaking.”