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Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020

Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years. Levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic response, NOAA announced today. The global surface average for carbon dioxide (CO2), calculated from measurements collected at NOAA’s remote sampling locations, was 412.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, rising by 2.6 ppm during the year. The global rate of increase was the fifth-highest in NOAA’s 63-year record, following 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016. The annual mean at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was 414.4 ppm during 2020.

The economic recession was estimated to have reduced carbon emissions by about 7 percent during 2020. Without the economic slowdown, the 2020 increase would have been the highest on record, according to Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. Since 2000, the global CO2 average has grown by 43.5 ppm, an increase of 12 percent.

The atmospheric burden of CO2 is now comparable to where it was during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period around 3.6 million years ago, when concentrations of carbon dioxide ranged from about 380 to 450 parts per million. During that time sea level was about 78 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.

Also: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-carbon-dioxide-highest-level-million-years/

TikTok sued for billions over use of children’s data

Lawyers will allege that TikTok takes children’s personal information, including phone numbers, videos, exact location and biometric data, without sufficient warning, transparency or the necessary consent required by law, and without children or parents knowing what is being done with that information. TikTok has more than 800 million users worldwide and parent firm ByteDance made billions in profits last year, with the vast majority of that coming via advertising revenue.

US Intelligence may partner with private firms to monitor “extremist chatter” online

The Biden administration is considering using outside firms to track extremist chatter by Americans online, an effort that would expand the government’s ability to gather intelligence but could draw criticism over surveillance of US citizens. The Department of Homeland Security is limited in how it can monitor citizens online without justification and is banned from activities like assuming false identities to gain access to private messaging apps used by extremist groups such as the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers. Instead, federal authorities can only browse through unprotected information on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and other open online platforms. A source familiar with the effort said it is not about decrypting data but rather using outside entities who can legally access these private groups to gather large amounts of information that could help DHS identify key narratives as they emerge. The plan being discussed inside DHS, according to multiple sources, would, in effect, allow the department to circumvent those limits.

Even as the DHS eyes a more robust use of its intelligence authorities, it continues to face fierce scrutiny on Capitol Hill over its handling of the Portland protests last summer — raising the possibility that at least some lawmakers will push back on the effort. The department — then led by Trump appointees but staffed by career officials, some of whom remain on the job — collected and disseminated open source reports on U.S. journalists who were publicly reporting on the protests.

Samsung Lost More than $268 Million During Power Shutdown in Texas

Samsung executives said the company’s semiconductor business saw profits fall in the first quarter, mainly due to disruptions and product losses caused by the shutdown. Samsung’s Austin fab was offline for more than a month after it was shut down due to power outages during the freeze… About 71,000 wafers were affected by production disruptions, said Han Jinman, executive vice-president of Samsung’s memory chip business. He estimated the wafer loss is equivalent to $268 million to $357 million.

Semiconductor fabs are typically operational 24 hours a day for years on end. Each batch of wafers — a thin slice of semiconductor used for the fabrication of integrated circuits — can take 45 to 60 days to make, so a shutdown of any length can mean a loss of weeks of work. Restoring a fab is also a complicated process, and even in the best of circumstances can take a week… NXP Semiconductors was also among the facilities that were shut down in February, as its two Austin fabrication facilities were offline for nearly a month. In March, the company estimated the shutdown would result in a $100 million loss in revenue and a month of wafer production…

Jinman said Samsung is working with the state, municipal government and local utility companies to find solutions to prevent similar shutdowns in the future.

Amazon had sales income of €44bn in Europe in 2020 but paid no corporation tax

Corporate filings in Luxembourg revealed that the company collected record sales income of €44bn (£38bn) in Europe last year but did not have to pay any corporation tax to the Grand Duchy.

Accounts for Amazon EU Sarl, through which it sells products to hundreds of millions of households in the UK and across Europe, show that despite collecting record income, the Luxembourg unit made a €1.2bn loss and therefore paid no tax.

In fact the unit was granted €56m in tax credits it can use to offset any future tax bills should it turn a profit. The company has €2.7bn worth of carried forward losses stored up, which can be used against any tax payable on future profits.

“Amazon’s revenues have soared under the pandemic while our high streets struggle, yet it continues to shift its profits to tax havens like Luxembourg to avoid paying its fair share of tax. These big digital companies all rely on our public services, our infrastructure…

Climate crisis has shifted the Earth’s axis, study shows

The massive melting of glaciers as a result of global heating has caused marked shifts in the Earth’s axis of rotation since the 1990s, research has shown. It demonstrates the profound impact humans are having on the planet, scientists said.

The planet’s geographic north and south poles are the point where its axis of rotation intersects the surface, but they are not fixed. Changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet cause the axis, and therefore the poles, to move.

In the past, only natural factors such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth contributed to the drifting position of the poles. But the new research shows that since the 1990s, the loss of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice a year into the oceans resulting from the climate crisis has caused the poles to move in new directions.

The scientists found the direction of polar drift shifted from southward to eastward in 1995 and that the average speed of drift from 1995 to 2020 was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995.

Since 1980, the position of the poles has moved about 4 metres in distance.

“The accelerated decline [in water stored on land] resulting from glacial ice melting is the main driver of the rapid polar drift after the 1990s,” concluded the team, led by Shanshan Deng, from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Gravity data from the Grace satellite, launched in 2002, had been used to link glacial melting to movements of the pole in 2005 and 2012, both following increases in ice losses. But Deng’s research breaks new ground by extending the link to before the satellite’s launch, showing human activities have been shifting the poles since the 1990s, almost three decades ago.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showed glacial losses accounted for most of the shift, but it is likely that the pumping up of groundwater also contributed to the movements.

Groundwater is stored under land but, once pumped up for drinking or agriculture, most eventually flows to sea, redistributing its weight around the world. In the past 50 years, humanity has removed 18tn tonnes of water from deep underground reservoirs without it being replaced.

Vincent Humphrey, at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and not involved in the new research said it showed how human activities have redistributed huge amounts of water around the planet: “It tells you how strong this mass change is – it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth.” However, the movement of the Earth’s axis is not large enough to affect daily life, he said: it could change the length of a day, but only by milliseconds.

Prof Jonathan Overpeck, at the University of Arizona, US, told the Guardian previously that changes to the Earth’s axis highlighted “how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet”.

Some scientists argue that the scale of this impact means a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared. Since the mid-20th century, there has been a marked acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the destruction of wildlife and the transformation of land by farming, deforestation and development.

Satellites show world’s glaciers melting faster than ever

Glaciers are melting faster, losing 31 percent more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years earlier, according to three-dimensional satellite measurements of all the world’s mountain glaciers.

Scientists blame human-caused climate change.

Using 20 years of recently declassified satellite data, scientists calculated that the world’s 220,000 mountain glaciers are losing more than 328 billion tons (298 billion metric tons) of ice and snow per year since 2015, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Nature. That’s enough melt flowing into the world’s rising oceans to put Switzerland under almost 24 feet (7.2 meters) of water each year.

Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada.

Almost all the world’s glaciers are melting, even ones in Tibet that used to be stable, the study found. Except for a few in Iceland and Scandinavia that are fed by increased precipitation, the melt rates are accelerating around the world.

The Facebook Loophole that Lets World Leaders Deceive and Harass Their Citizens

Facebook has repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing. The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more than 30 cases across 25 countries of politically manipulative behavior that was proactively detected by company staff. The investigation shows how Facebook has allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small and non-western countries in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect the US and other wealthy countries. The company acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico and much of Latin America.

Amazon Delivery Drivers Forced to Sign ‘Biometric Consent’ Form or Lose Job

Amazon delivery drivers nationwide have to sign a “biometric consent” form this week that grants the tech behemoth permission to use AI-powered cameras to access drivers’ location, movement, and biometric data. If the company’s delivery drivers, who number around 75,000 in the United States, refuse to sign these forms, they lose their jobs. The form requires drivers to agree to facial recognition and other biometric data collection within the trucks they drive.

“Amazon may… use certain Technology that processes Biometric Information, including on-board safety camera technology which collects your photograph for the purposes of confirming your identity and connecting you to your driver account,” the form reads. “Using your photograph, this Technology, may create Biometric Information, and collect, store, and use Biometric Information from such photographs.”

It adds that “this Technology tracks vehicle location and movement, including miles driven, speed, acceleration, braking, turns, and following distance …as a condition of delivery packages for Amazon, you consent to the use of Technology.”

New Site Extracts and Posts Every Face from Parler’s Capitol Hill Insurrection Videos

“Late last week, a website called Faces of the Riot appeared online, showing nothing but a vast grid of more than 6,000 images of faces, each one tagged only with a string of characters associated with the Parler video in which it appeared,” reports WIRED, saying the site raises clear privacy concerns:
The site’s creator tells WIRED that he used simple, open source machine-learning and facial recognition software to detect, extract, and deduplicate every face from the 827 videos that were posted to Parler from inside and outside the Capitol building on January 6, the day when radicalized Trump supporters stormed the building in a riot that resulted in five people’s deaths. The creator of Faces of the Riot says his goal is to allow anyone to easily sort through the faces pulled from those videos to identify someone they may know, or recognize who took part in the mob, or even to reference the collected faces against FBI wanted posters and send a tip to law enforcement if they spot someone… “It’s entirely possible that a lot of people who were on this website now will face real-life consequences for their actions….”

A recent upgrade to the site adds hyperlinks from faces to the video source, so that visitors can click on any face and see what the person was filmed doing on Parler. The Faces of the Riot creator, who says he’s a college student in the “greater DC area,” intends that added feature to help contextualize every face’s inclusion on the site and differentiate between bystanders, peaceful protesters, and violent insurrectionists. He concedes that he and a co-creator are still working to scrub “non-rioter” faces, including those of police and press who were present. A message at the top of the site also warns against vigilante investigations, instead suggesting users report those they recognize to the FBI, with a link to an FBI tip page….

McDonald has previously both criticized the power of facial recognition technology and himself implemented facial recognition projects like ICEspy, a tool he launched in 2018 for identifying agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency… He sees Faces of the Riot as “playing it really safe” compared even to his own facial recognition experiments, given that it doesn’t seek to link faces with named identities. “And I think it’s a good call because I don’t think that we need to legitimize this technology any more than it already is and has been falsely legitimized,” McDonald says.

But McDonald also points out that Faces of the Riot demonstrates just how accessible facial recognition technologies have become. “It shows how this tool that has been restricted only to people who have the most education, the most power, the most privilege is now in this more democratized state,” McDonald says.

Twitter Bots Are a Major Source of Climate Disinformation

Twitter accounts run by machines are a major source of climate change disinformation that might drain support from policies to address rising temperatures. In the weeks surrounding former President Trump’s announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, accounts suspected of being bots accounted for roughly a quarter of all tweets about climate change, according to new research. “If we are to effectively address the existential crisis of climate change, bot presence in the online discourse is a reality that scientists, social movements and those concerned about democracy have to better grapple with,” wrote Thomas Marlow, a postdoctoral researcher at the New York University, Abu Dhabi, campus, and his co-authors. Their paper published last week in the journal Climate Policy is part of an expanding body of research about the role of bots in online climate discourse.

The new focus on automated accounts is driven partly by the way they can distort the climate conversation online. Marlow’s team measured the influence of bots on Twitter’s climate conversation by analyzing 6.8 million tweets sent by 1.6 million users between May and June 2017. Trump made his decision to ditch the climate accord on June 1 of that year. President Biden reversed the decision this week. From that dataset, the team ran a random sample of 184,767 users through the Botometer, a tool created by Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media, which analyzes accounts and determines the likelihood that they are run by machines.

Researchers also categorized the 885,164 tweets those users had sent about climate change during the two-month study period. The most popular categories were tweets about climate research and news. Marlow and the other researchers determined that nearly 9.5% of the users in their sample were likely bots. But those bots accounted for 25% of the total tweets about climate change on most days. […] The researchers weren’t able to determine who deployed the bots. But they suspect the seemingly fake accounts could have been created by “fossil-fuel companies, petro-states or their surrogates,” all of which have a vested interest in preventing or delaying action on climate change.

Intelligence Analysts Use US Smartphone Location Data Without Warrants, Memo Says

A military arm of the intelligence community buys commercially available databases containing location data from smartphone apps and searches it for Americans’ past movements without a warrant, according to an unclassified memo obtained by The New York Times. Defense Intelligence Agency analysts have searched for the movements of Americans within a commercial database in five investigations over the past two and a half years, agency officials disclosed in a memo they wrote for Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.

The disclosure sheds light on an emerging loophole in privacy law during the digital age: In a landmark 2018 ruling known as the Carpenter decision, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution requires the government to obtain a warrant to compel phone companies to turn over location data about their customers. But the government can instead buy similar data from a broker — and does not believe it needs a warrant to do so. “D.I.A. does not construe the Carpenter decision to require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially available data for intelligence purposes,” the agency memo said.

Mr. Wyden has made clear that he intends to propose legislation to add safeguards for Americans’ privacy in connection with commercially available location data. In a Senate speech this week, he denounced circumstances “in which the government, instead of getting an order, just goes out and purchases the private records of Americans from these sleazy and unregulated commercial data brokers who are simply above the law.” He called the practice unacceptable and an intrusion on constitutional privacy rights. “The Fourth Amendment is not for sale,” he said.

How Law Enforcement Gets Around Your Smartphone’s Encryption

Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies around the world, including in the United States, have increasingly called for backdoors in the encryption schemes that protect your data, arguing that national security is at stake. But new research indicates governments already have methods and tools that, for better or worse, let them access locked smartphones thanks to weaknesses in the security schemes of Android and iOS.

Cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University used publicly available documentation from Apple and Google as well as their own analysis to assess the robustness of Android and iOS encryption. They also studied more than a decade’s worth of reports about which of these mobile security features law enforcement and criminals have previously bypassed, or can currently, using special hacking tools…

once you unlock your device the first time after reboot, lots of encryption keys start getting stored in quick access memory, even while the phone is locked. At this point an attacker could find and exploit certain types of security vulnerabilities in iOS to grab encryption keys that are accessible in memory and decrypt big chunks of data from the phone. Based on available reports about smartphone access tools, like those from the Israeli law enforcement contractor Cellebrite and US-based forensic access firm Grayshift, the researchers realized that this is how almost all smartphone access tools likely work right now. It’s true that you need a specific type of operating system vulnerability to grab the keys — and both Apple and Google patch as many of those flaws as possible — but if you can find it, the keys are available, too…

Forensic tools exploiting the right vulnerability can grab even more decryption keys, and ultimately access even more data, on an Android phone.

NSO Used Real People’s Location Data To Pitch Its Contact-Tracing Tech

NSO, a private intelligence company best known for developing and selling governments access to its Pegasus spyware, pitched its contact-tracing system earlier this year, dubbed Fleming, aimed at helping governments track the spread of COVID-19. Fleming is designed to allow governments to feed location data from cell phone companies to visualize and track the spread of the virus. NSO gave several news outlets each a demo of Fleming, which NSO says helps governments make public health decisions “without compromising individual privacy.” But in May, a security researcher told TechCrunch that he found an exposed database storing thousands of location data points used by NSO to demonstrate how Fleming works — the same demo seen by reporters weeks earlier. TechCrunch reported the apparent security lapse to NSO, which quickly secured the database, but said that the location data was “not based on real and genuine data.” NSO’s claim that the location data wasn’t real differed from reports in Israeli media, which said NSO had used phone location data obtained from advertising platforms, known as data brokers, to “train” the system. Academic and privacy expert Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, who was also given a demo of Fleming, said NSO told her that the data was obtained from data brokers, which sell access to vast troves of aggregate location data collected from the apps installed on millions of phones.

NSO is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which last year blamed NSO for exploiting an undisclosed vulnerability in WhatsApp to infect some 1,400 phones with Pegasus, including journalists and human rights defenders. NSO says it should be afforded legal immunity because it acts on behalf of governments.

Dozens of Journalists’ iPhones Hacked With NSO ‘Zero-Click’ Spyware, Says Citizen Lab

For more than the past year, London-based reporter Rania Dridi and at least 36 journalists, producers and executives working for the Al Jazeera news agency were targeted with a so-called “zero-click” attack that exploited a now-fixed vulnerability in Apple’s iMessage. The attack invisibly compromised the devices without having to trick the victims into opening a malicious link. Citizen Lab, the internet watchdog at the University of Toronto, was asked to investigate earlier this year after one of the victims, Al Jazeera investigative journalist Tamer Almisshal, suspected that his phone may have been hacked. In a technical report out Sunday and shared with TechCrunch, the researchers say they believe the journalists’ iPhones were infected with the Pegasus spyware, developed by Israel-based NSO Group. The researchers analyzed Almisshal’s iPhone and found it had between July and August connected to servers known to be used by NSO for delivering the Pegasus spyware. The device revealed a burst of network activity that suggests that the spyware may have been delivered silently over iMessage. Logs from the phone show that the spyware was likely able to secretly record the microphone and phone calls, take photos using the phone’s camera, access the victim’s passwords, and track the phone’s location.

Surveillance Compounded: Real-Time Crime Centers in the United States

Over the last two decades, law enforcement agencies across the United States have been obtaining more and more sophisticated surveillance technologies to collect data. Technologies such as networked cameras, automated license plate readers, and gunshot detection are deployed around the clock, as are the tools to process this data, such as predictive policing software and AI-enhanced video analytics. The last five years have seen a distinct trend in which police have begun deploying all of this technology in conjunction with one another. The technologies, working in concert, are being consolidated and fed into physical locations called Real-Time Crime Centers (RTCCs). These high-tech hubs, filled with walls of TV monitors and computer workstations for sworn officers and civilian analysts, not only exploit huge amounts of data, but also are used to justify an increase in surveillance technology through new “data-driven” or “intelligence-led” policing strategies.

As part of the Atlas of Surveillance project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and students from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno have identified more than 80 RTCCs across the United States, with heavy concentrations in the South and the Northeast. In this report, we highlight the capabilities and controversies surrounding 7 of these facilities. As this trend expands, it is crucial that the public understands how the technologies are combined to collect data about people as they move through their day-to-day lives.

What Modern Video Surveillance Looks Like

A few years ago, when you saw a security camera, you may have thought that the video feed went to a VCR somewhere in a back office that could only be accessed when a crime occurs. Or maybe you imagined a sleepy guard who only paid half-attention, and only when they discovered a crime in progress. In the age of internet-connectivity, now it’s easy to imagine footage sitting on a server somewhere, with any image inaccessible except to someone willing to fast forward through hundreds of hours of footage.

That may be how it worked in 1990s heist movies, and it may be how a homeowner still sorts through their own home security camera footage. But that’s not how cameras operate in today’s security environment. Instead, advanced algorithms are watching every frame on every camera and documenting every person, animal, vehicle, and backpack as they move through physical space, and thus camera to camera, over an extended period of time.

France Bans Use of Drones To Police Protests In Paris

The Council of State said Paris police prefect Didier Lallement should halt “without delay” drone surveillance of gatherings on public roads. The ruling comes weeks after MPs backed a controversial security bill that includes police use of drones. Its main aim is to regulate how people share film or photos of police.

Privacy rights group La Quadrature du Net (LQDN) has argued that the bill’s main measures violate freedom of expression and that drones equipped with cameras cannot keep the peace but track individuals instead. The Council of State ruled there was “serious doubt over the legality” of drones without a prior text authorizing and setting out their use. LQDN said the only way the government could legalize drone surveillance now was in providing “impossible proof” that it was absolutely necessary to maintain law and order. The decision is the second setback in months for Parisian authorities’ drone plans. In May, the same court ruled that drones could not be used in the capital to track people in breach of France’s strict lockdown rules.

TikTok: Rampant product placement

In the world of TikTok, brands have the opportunity to get products out into the real world – or make stories of them already being out there. The platform turns placement into consumption as consumers participate – or play – with the products. Product placement on the platform could come from just giving products out to creators, or partnering with them, as is done on other platforms. However, it could also come from amplifying organic content or trends that are already happening with a brand’s products … Viewers are the stars. When it comes to distinguishing between viewers and audiences on TikTok, just as with content and ads, the lines are blurred. In fact, many TikTok users are also creators. For these creators, the feed is their stage and this where the opportunity for sponsorship and placement lies for brands.

Hundreds Riot, Thousands Protest at iPhone Factory in India

The international news agency AFP reports on “a violent rampage at a Taiwanese-run iPhone factory in southern India” leading to over 100 arrests. About 2,000 workers were involved in the protest, reports the Verge, citing the Indian Express newspaper.

The workers are protesting over allegations of unpaid wages and exploitation, according to AFP. “Local media reported workers saying they had not been paid for up to four months and were being forced to do extra shifts…”
Workers at the Taiwanese-run Wistron Infocomm Manufacturing near Bangalore smashed glass panels with rods and flipped cars on their side… CCTV cameras, fans and lights were torn down, while a car was set on fire, footage shared on social media showed…

A local trade union leader alleged that there was “brutal exploitation” of factory workers in sweatshop conditions at the iPhone manufacturing plant. “The state government has allowed the company to flout the basic rights,” Satyanand, who uses one name, told The Hindu newspaper… Labour unrest is not uncommon in India, with workers paid poorly and given few or no social security benefits.