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Dark Patterns: User Interfaces Designed to Trick People

“A Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, they wouldn’t normally do.”

“Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.”

“London-based UX designer Harry Brignull documents this on his website, darkpatterns.org, offering plenty of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces. These dark patterns trick unsuspecting users into a gamut of actions: setting up recurring payments, purchasing items surreptitiously added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through prechecked forms on Facebook games, etc.”

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Bird-like drone could symbolise new forms of covert surveillance to come

“A crashed metal drone disguised as a bird has been discovered in Mogadishu, the troubled capital of Somalia.

Both governments [Somalia and the United States] and drone companies are experimenting with different types of aircraft, including nanobots and swarm-style technology.”

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How technology disrupted the truth

Coinciding with a continued rise in public cynicism and a legitimate mistrust of mainstream media beholden to systems of power that are discredited, it seems most people turn to social media networks to get their news now. But this seemingly doesn’t fix the problem. Rather than a “democratisation” of the media and/or a mass reclamation of investigative journalism (as technology pundits continuously purport), there’s arguably been the opposite.

Now, with the convergence of closed social media networks that are beholden to nefarious algorithms such as The Filter Bubble and the personalisation of information, as an article in the Guardian explains, “Social media has swallowed the news – threatening the funding of public-interest reporting and ushering in an era when everyone has their own facts. But the consequences go far beyond journalism.”

“Twenty-five years after the first website went online, it is clear that we are living through a period of dizzying transition. For 500 years after Gutenberg, the dominant form of information was the printed page: knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format, one that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths.

Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.

Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago).

Too much of the press often exhibited a bias towards the status quo and a deference to authority, and it was prohibitively difficult for ordinary people to challenge the power of the press. Now, people distrust much of what is presented as fact – particularly if the facts in question are uncomfortable, or out of sync with their own views – and while some of that distrust is misplaced, some of it is not.

In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true – as we often see in emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time.”

It’s like the well-oiled tactics of the tobacco industry that have since permeated pretty much all industries—confuse the hell out of people so they don’t know what’s true anymore. It’s a popular PR tactic honed over decades for social control and manipulation of democracy, and it’s that element that exists and is especially reinforced online (particularly in real time), in the giant echo chamber of corporate social media networks, where the user is constantly subjected to streams and streams of information about current events—most devoid of context, analysis, or even significant depth in the time and space of a tweet.

The grounding that gives rise to physical reality and epistemological truths goes missing when we’re tied to screens that simply reflect our projections.

In the words of Sherry Turkle, the issues facing our planet right now cannot be solved in the time-space of texting/tweeting. So if the way we understand, perceive and relate to the world through the prism of media (mainstream media and social media alike) is in decline, it should tell us volumes about the state of democracy…

Global Voices’ adds: “The need for fact-checking hasn’t gone away. As new technologies have spawned new forms of media which lend themselves to the spread of various kinds of disinformation, this need has in fact grown. Much of the information that’s spread online, even by news outlets, is not checked, as outlets simply copy-paste — or in some instances, plagiarise — “click-worthy” content generated by others. Politicians, especially populists prone to manipulative tactics, have embraced this new media environment by making alliances with tabloid tycoons or by becoming media owners themselves.

UPDATE 29/7 — Example, of sorts. “#SaveMarinaJoyce conspiracy theories about British YouTuber go viral.” News reporting social media rumours, facts from source ignite disbelief and cynicism, confirmation bias at work, etc.

Snapchat’s new Memories function could change the way we remember

“Social media has changed. After 10 years of popular use, the information in our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profiles is no longer just about the current moment or instant connections. Instead of simply broadcasting our thoughts and actions as they happen, these platforms have become a biographical archive of our lives, storing our photos and recording where we went and who we were with. The result of this archiving is that social media is taking on a new role in the way that we remember.”

“So if we rely more and more on social media to archive our memories, how will it shape how we remember? As time passes, more of people’s lives will be captured in these profiles. And when we want to remember our lives and the lives of the people we connect with, we will inevitably turn to the data stored in these social media archives. Our memories might then be shaped by the types of things that we choose to include in our visible social media profiles, or even in less visible spaces protected by our privacy settings (as included in the Memories feature).”

The shakeup and insanity of “Pokémon Go” in the real world

Since its release Wednesday night, a new game, Pokémon Go has already gone on to become the top-grossing game in the three countries where it’s currently available, adding nearly $11 billion to the value of Nintendo in less than a week.

The game, which “marries a classic 20-year old franchise with augmented reality,” allows players to walk around “real-life” neighbourhoods while seeking “virtual Pokemon game characters” on their smartphone screens. Basically, a glorified fake scavenger hunt, similar to games like Ingress, etc.

In the United States, by July 8–just two days after its release–the game was installed on more than 5 percent of Android devices in the country, is now on more Android phones than dating app Tinder, has daily active users neck and neck with that of social network Twitter, and is also being played an average of 43 minutes a day–more time spent than on WhatsApp or Instagram.”

“Some fans are now tweeting about playing the game while driving, and one user already reports, “Pokemon Go put me in the ER last night… Not even 30 minutes after the release…I slipped and fell down a ditch.” In Australia the game has been leading some players into their local police station, and a woman in Wyoming reports that the game actually led her to a dead body floating in a river. One Pokemon Go screenshot has also gone viral. It shows a man capturing a Pokemon while his wife gives birth…”

The app’s popularity has created lagging servers and forced the company Niantic to delay its international roll-out, meaning “Those who have already downloaded the game in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand can still play it, while those in the U.K., the Netherlands and other countries will have to wait.”

Meanwhile, as people clearly can’t wait, there has been a flood of downloads of unofficial copies of the game, exposing users to hackers who are circulating malicious versions of the game in order to backdoor their devices. “A remote access tool (RAT), known as DroidJack (or SandroRAT), has been added to some APK files, allowing third parties to gain full control over the users’ mobile devices. Permissions granted then include: being able to directly call phone numbers, reading phone status’ and identities, editing and reading text messages, sending SMS messages and recording audio.”

It surely is spurious times…

UPDATE 13/7Holocaust Museum to visitors: Please stop catching Pokemon here. “Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, said. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

UPDATE 14/7 “Law enforcement agencies around the globe are reminding citizens to obey trespassing laws and follow common sense when playing Pokemon Go. The new crazy-popular mobile game has led to some frightening results in recent days, such as the location of a dead body and robberies of players in Missouri. Now, San Francisco Police Department Captain Raj Vaswani warned in one online posting for players to “obey traffic laws, please. Do not run into trees, meters, and things that are attached to the sidewalk; they hurt,” he said. “Do not drive or ride your bike / skateboard / hipster techie device while interacting with the app. Know where your kids are going when playing with the app, set limits on where they can go, so they don’t keep going trying to get that Pokemon.”

UPDATE 19/7 — “Pokemon Go is now the biggest mobile game of all time in the United States. Not only has it surpassed Twitter’s daily users, but it is seeing people spend more time in its app than in Facebook. The game also surpassed Tinder in terms of popularity (based on installations) on July 7th.”

UPDATE 29/7 — “It turns out that the stairs of the Internet Archive’s San Francisco headquarters are a PokéGym, a site where players can train their Pokémon and fight with other Pokémon. Fortunately, the Pokémon warriors aren’t rowdy or disruptive; they resemble somnambulistic zombies stumbling around under the control of their glowing smartphone screens.”

UPDATE 8/8How Pokemon Go will make money from you. “Augmented reality games like Ingress and Pokemon Go have the potential to open up a very lucrative new revenue stream based on the acquisition and sale of data – not just personal data, but aggregated spatial data about urban activity patterns. There has already been some controversy about the terms of service for players, which give Niantic access to all manner of data on their phones – including email contacts and social media profiles. This data could potentially be sold to third parties with an interest in targeted advertising. But it is not only individually identifiable personal data that interests Niantic. They are also interested in the spatial data that is generated by Pokemon Go players. As has been widely observed, playing the game rapidly drains phone batteries, because when the game is open your phone is constantly in touch with Niantic servers and providing location information about your movements. […] Niantic is now harvesting “geospatial data” about millions of people’s movements: about how far they are prepared to travel as part of game play; about the kinds of places they stop during game play; about the groups they travel with; and the connections they make during game play, and much more.”

UPDATE 18/8I recently discovered some interesting background to the company Niantic Inc.—the company that developed Pokémon Go and indeed Ingress. The company was formed in 2010 by the founder of Keyhole Inc., John Hanke as “Niantic Labs,” being an internal startup within Google. Niantic left Google in October 2015.

Keyhole Inc., founded in 2001, was a “software development company specialising in geospatial data visualisation applications and was acquired by Google in 2004.” Keyhole was backed by Sony venture capital, NVIDIA and the CIA’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel, with the majority of In-Q-Tel’ funds coming from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. “Keyhole’s marquee application suite, Earth Viewer, emerged as the highly successful Google Earth application in 2005; other aspects of core technology survive in Google Maps, Google Mobile and the Keyhole Markup Language. The name “Keyhole” is a homage to the KH reconnaissance satellites, the original eye-in-the-sky military reconnaissance system now some 50 years old.”

Just like how now smartphones are the new “eye-in-the-sky” on the ground…

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“Facebook decides which killings we’re allowed to see”

Minutes after a police officer shot Philando Castile in Minnesota, United States, a live video was published on Facebook of the aftermath. Castile was captured in some harrowing detail and streamed to Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, using the live video tool on her smartphone. She narrates the footage with a contrasting mix of eerie calm and anguish. But the video was removed from Facebook due to, as company says, a “technical glitch.” The video has since been restored, but with a “Warning — Graphic Video,” disclaimer.

Now an article has come out commenting on how Facebook has become the “de-facto platform” for such “controversial” videos, and that there’s a pattern in these so called glitches–as they happen very often time after “questionable content” is streamed.

It has long been obvious to anyone paying attention that Facebook operates various nefarious controls over all aspects of how information is displayed and disseminated on their network, not just with advertising and the filter bubble:

“As Facebook continues to build out its Live video platform, the world’s most popular social network has become the de-facto choice for important, breaking, and controversial videos. Several times, Facebook has blocked political or newsworthy content only to later say that the removal was a “technical glitch” or an “error.” Nearly two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media, and two thirds of Facebook users say they use the site to get news. If Facebook is going to become the middleman that delivers the world’s most popular news events to the masses, technical glitches and erroneous content removals could be devastating to information dissemination efforts. More importantly, Facebook has become the self-appointed gatekeeper for what is acceptable content to show the public, which is an incredibly important and powerful position to be in. By censoring anything, Facebook has created the expectation that there are rules for using its platform (most would agree that some rules are necessary). But because the public relies on the website so much, Facebook’s rules and judgments have an outsized impact on public debate.”

Is the future of screen culture watching on fast-forward?

Make note of the screen culture symptoms: lack of linear narrative, increase in speed, shorter attention span, skimming, less engagement with content/meaning, “efficiency”, increase in scatterbrain, etc. Also, the descriptions about how this behaviour effects the perception of reality.

“I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. […] I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient.

[…]

As I’ve come to consume all my television on my computer, I’ve developed other habits, too. I don’t watch linearly anymore; I often scrub back and forth to savor complex scenes or to skim over slow ones. In other words, I watch television like I read a book. I jump around. I re-read. Sometimes I speed up. Sometimes I slow down.

I confess these new viewing techniques have done something strange to my sense of reality. I can’t watch television in real-time anymore. Movie theaters feel suffocating. I need to be able to fast-forward and rewind and accelerate and slow down, to be able to parcel my attention where it’s needed.

[…]

We risk transforming, perhaps permanently, the ways in which our brains perceive people, time, space, emotion. And isn’t that marvelous?”

Infrared system to disable smartphone camera and video functions

Apple has been awarded a patent for a system that prohibits smartphone users from taking photos and videos inside music venues or movie theatres, etc.

“It outlines a system which would allow venues to use an infrared emitter to remotely disable the camera function on smartphones. According to the patent, infrared beams could be picked up by the camera, and interpreted by the smartphone as a command to block the user from taking any photos or videos of whatever they’re seeing. The patent also outlines ways that infrared blasters could actually improve someone’s experience at a venue. For example, the beams could be used to send information to museum-goers by pointing a smartphone camera at a blaster placed next to a piece of art.”

“The patent also raises questions about the sort of power that this technology would be handing over to people with more nefarious intentions. Its application might help police limit smartphone filming of acts of brutality, or help a government shut off filming in certain locations.”

Microcamera small enough to be injected also poses surveillance concerns

“German engineers have created a camera no bigger than a grain of salt that could change the future of health imaging — and clandestine surveillance.

Using 3D printing, researchers from the University of Stuttgart built a three-lens camera, and fit it onto the end of an optical fibre the width of two hairs. Such technology could be used as minimally-intrusive endoscopes for exploring inside the human body, the engineers reported in the journal Nature Photonics.

It could also be deployed in virtually invisible security monitors, or mini-robots with “autonomous vision”.

The “imaging system” fits comfortably inside a standard syringe needle, said the team, allowing for delivery into a human organ, or even the brain.

“Endoscopic applications will allow for non-invasive and non-destructive examination of small objects in the medical, as well as the industrial, sector,” they wrote.

The compound lens can also be printed onto image sensor other than optical fibres, such as those used in digital cameras.”

Robot “escapes” lab in Russia, makes a “dash for freedom.”

For all the anthropomorphising, the elements of this story are way less interesting than the way the story is being reported…

“A robot escaped from a science lab and caused a traffic jam in one Russian city, it’s reported. Scientists at the Promobot laboratories in Perm had been teaching the machine how to move around independently, but it broke free after an engineer forgot to shut a gate, says the local edition of the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper. The robot found its way to a nearby street, covering a distance of about 50m (164ft), before its battery ran out, the daily says.”

QZ reports: “It’s happening: A robot escaped a lab in Russia and made a dash for freedom.

“With every passing day, it feels like the robot uprising is getting a little closer. Robots are being beaten down by their human overlords, even as we teach them to get stronger. Now, they’re starting to break free.”

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FBI says utility-pole surveillance camera locations must be kept secret

“The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has successfully convinced a federal judge to block the disclosure of where the bureau has attached surveillance cams on Seattle utility poles.

However, this privacy dispute highlights a powerful and clandestine tool the authorities are employing across the country to snoop on the public—sometimes with warrants, sometimes without.

The deployment of such video cameras appears to be widespread. What’s more, the Seattle authorities aren’t saying whether they have obtained court warrants to install the surveillance cams.”

“Peter Winn [assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle] wrote to Judge Jones that the location information about the disguised surveillance cams should be withheld because the public might think they are an ‘invasion of privacy.’ Winn also said that revealing the cameras’ locations could threaten the safety of FBI agents. And if the cameras become ‘publicly identifiable,’ Winn said, ‘subjects of the criminal investigation and national security adversaries of the United States will know what to look for to discern whether the FBI is conducting surveillance in a particular location.’

Intel’s secret control mechanism on x86 CPUs

“Recent Intel x86 processors implement a secret, powerful control mechanism that runs on a separate chip that no one is allowed to audit or examine. When these are eventually compromised, they’ll expose all affected systems to nearly unkillable, undetectable rootkit attacks. I’ve made it my mission to open up this system and make free, open replacements, before it’s too late.”

The Intel Management Engine (ME) is a subsystem composed of a special 32-bit ARC microprocessor that’s physically located inside the chipset. It is an extra general purpose computer running a firmware blob that is sold as a management system for big enterprise deployments.

When you purchase your system with a mainboard and Intel x86 CPU, you are also buying this hardware add-on: an extra computer that controls the main CPU. This extra computer runs completely out-of-band with the main x86 CPU meaning that it can function totally independently even when your main CPU is in a low power state like S3 (suspend).

On some chipsets, the firmware running on the ME implements a system called Intel’s Active Management Technology (AMT). This is entirely transparent to the operating system, which means that this extra computer can do its job regardless of which operating system is installed and running on the main CPU.

The purpose of AMT is to provide a way to manage computers remotely (this is similar to an older system called “Intelligent Platform Management Interface” or IPMI, but more powerful). To achieve this task, the ME is capable of accessing any memory region without the main x86 CPU knowing about the existence of these accesses. It also runs a TCP/IP server on your network interface and packets entering and leaving your machine on certain ports bypass any firewall running on your system.”

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This isn’t a Google Streetview van, it’s a government spy truck (insofar as there’s a difference) running ANPR

“The Philadelphia Police Department admitted today that a mysterious unmarked license plate surveillance truck disguised as a Google Maps vehicle is its own.

“We have been informed that this unmarked vehicle belongs to the police department; however, the placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command. With that being said, once this was brought to our attention, it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately.”

Brandon Worf, who for three years worked at Busch and Associates, a sales group that specializes in public safety technology, described the ALPR gear installed on the vehicle as “scary efficient” after reviewing yesterday’s photos.

Worf says that this particular model, called the ELSAG MPH-900, “is based on the use of infrared cameras to find plate numbers and letters via temperature differentials between those characters and the surrounding background through optical character recognition.”

The cameras are able to read and process “several plates simultaneously” and “in a fraction of a second.” All plates swept up in such a dragnet fashion “are logged with the time/date of the read, GPS latitude/longitude coordinates of where the read occurred, and a photo of the plate and surrounding vehicle,” he added.”

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Parents are worried the Amazon Echo is conditioning their kids to be rude

“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'” Perhaps she should, he thinks. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
Alexa, how do you spell forest?
Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even. “If it’s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,” says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai.

For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.

“One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

WWW Inventor Tim Berners-Lee says, “the Internet has become the world’s largest surveillance network.”

“Tim Berners-Lee has said that the internet has fallen into the hands of large corporations and governments and become the “world’s largest surveillance network”.

Berners-Lee explained in an interview with The New York Times that his invention has steadily come under the control of powerful interests.

“It controls what people see. It creates mechanisms for how people interact. It’s been great, but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites completely undermines the spirit of helping people create,” he said.”

FBI and NIST developing software to track and categorise people by their tattoos

“An Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) investigation just revealed an awfully Orwellian fact: the FBI is working with government researchers to develop advanced tattoo recognition technology. This would allow law enforcement to sort and identify people based on their tattoos to determine “affiliation to gangs, sub-cultures, religious or ritualistic beliefs, or political ideology.”

“My name is Siri. I really can’t wait until some other app controls your phone.”

Summary: Short article basically speaking to how culture is transmitted, with an underpinning comment about how ubiquitous technology trumps real life relationships, even in small ways, such as real-life people’s names.

“I’ve become slow to respond to my name in public spaces for fear I’ll turn and smile at a stranger scowling into their phone. In protest, I’ve never used the feature and forbade my parents from using it on their iPhones.

“OMG, Siri like the iPhone,” should be engraved on my tombstone.

At worst, people air their grievances against Apple to me.”

Is Facebook eavesdropping on your phone conversations?

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“RoboCop” deployed to Silicon Valley shopping centre

At the Stanford shopping center in Palo Alto, California, there is a new sheriff in town – and it’s an egg-shaped robot.

“Everyone likes to take robot selfies,” Stephens said. “People really like to interact with the robot.” He said there have even been two instances where the company found lipstick marks on the robot where people had kissed the graffiti-resistant dome.

The slightly comical Dalek design was intentional…”

Scientists put the brainwaves of a parasitic roundworm into Lego robot body

“Scientists believe they could be on the brink of creating artificial life after they digitized the brain of a worm and successfully placed it inside a robot.

Incredibly, they discovered that the bionic simulation behaved in exactly the same way as a real worm — despite the fact that they’d never coded its actual behavior.”