Resources

Amazon’s ‘Ring’ Doorbells Creating A Massive Police Surveillance Network

“Police departments are piggybacking on Ring’s network to build out their surveillance networks…” reports CNET, adding that Ring “helps police avoid roadblocks for surveillance technology, whether a lack of funding or the public’s concerns about privacy.”

While residential neighborhoods aren’t usually lined with security cameras, the smart doorbell’s popularity has essentially created private surveillance networks powered by Amazon and promoted by police departments. Police departments across the country, from major cities like Houston to towns with fewer than 30,000 people, have offered free or discounted Ring doorbells to citizens, sometimes using taxpayer funds to pay for Amazon’s products.

While Ring owners are supposed to have a choice on providing police footage, in some giveaways, police require recipients to turn over footage when requested. Ring said Tuesday that it would start cracking down on those strings attached…

While more surveillance footage in neighborhoods could help police investigate crimes, the sheer number of cameras run by Amazon’s Ring business raises questions about privacy involving both law enforcement and tech giants… More than 50 local police departments across the US have partnered with Ring over the last two years, lauding how the Amazon-owned product allows them to access security footage in areas that typically don’t have cameras — on suburban doorsteps. But privacy advocates argue this partnership gives law enforcement an unprecedented amount of surveillance. “What we have here is a perfect marriage between law enforcement and one of the world’s biggest companies creating conditions for a society that few people would want to be a part of,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California…

Despite its benefits, the relationship between police departments and Ring raises concerns about surveillance and privacy, as Amazon is working with law enforcement to blanket communities with cameras…. “Essentially, we’re creating a culture where everybody is the nosy neighbor looking out the window with their binoculars,” said Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It is creating this giant pool of data that allows the government to analyze our every move, whether or not a crime is being committed.” On a heat map of Bloomfield, there are hardly any spots in the New Jersey township out of sight of a Ring camera.

Tajsar says in some scenarios “they’re basically commandeering people’s homes as surveillance outposts for law enforcement,” and the articles notes that when police departments partner with Ring, “they have access to a law enforcement dashboard, where they can geofence areas and request footage filmed at specific times.”

While law enforcement “can only get footage from the app if residents choose to send it,” if the residents refuse, police can still try to obtain the footage with a subpoena to Amazon’s Ring.

Is the Reliance on GPS Shrinking Our Brains?

“Neuroscientists can now see that brain behavior changes when people rely on turn-by-turn directions,” says science writer M.R. O’Connor, citing a study of personal GPS devices co-authored by Kent-based cognitive neuroscience researcher Amir-Homayoun Javadi:

What isn’t known is the effect of GPS use on hippocampal function when employed daily over long periods of time. Javadi said the conclusions he draws from recent studies is that “when people use tools such as GPS, they tend to engage less with navigation. Therefore, brain area responsible for navigation is less used, and consequently their brain areas involved in navigation tend to shrink.”

How people navigate naturally changes with age. Navigation aptitude appears to peak around age 19, and after that, most people slowly stop using spatial memory strategies to find their way, relying on habit instead. But neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot has found that using spatial-memory strategies for navigation correlates with increased gray matter in the hippocampus at any age. She thinks that interventions focused on improving spatial memory by exercising the hippocampus — paying attention to the spatial relationships of places in our environment — might help offset age-related cognitive impairments or even neurodegenerative diseases. “If we are paying attention to our environment, we are stimulating our hippocampus, and a bigger hippocampus seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease,” Bohbot told me in an email.

Facebook says there’s “No Expectation of Privacy On Social Media”

Facebook wants to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal by arguing that it didn’t violate users’ privacy rights because there’s no expectation of privacy when using social media. “There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” Facebook counsel Orin Snyder said during a pretrial hearing to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to Law 360. The company reportedly didn’t deny that third parties accessed users’ data, but it instead told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria that there’s no “reasonable expectation of privacy” on Facebook or any other social media site.

There Are About 5.3 Billion People on Earth Aged Over 15. Of These, Around 5 Billion Have a Mobile Phone

There are about 5.3bn people on earth aged over 15. Of these, around 5bn have a mobile phone. Source: World Bank, GSMA, Apple, Google, CNNIC, a16z. The data challenge is that mobile operators collectively know how many people have a SIM card, but a lot of people have more than one. Meanwhile, ownership starts at aged 10 or so in developed markets, whereas in some developing markets half of the population is under 15, which means that a penetration number given as a share of the total population masks a much higher penetration of the adult population.

How many of these are online? These sources are all based on devices that connect to the internet regularly in order for them to be counted, but ‘connection’ is a pretty fuzzy thing. The entry price for low-end Android is now well under $50, and cellular data connectivity is relatively expensive for people earning less than $10 or $5 a day (and yes, all of these people are getting phones). Charging your phone is also expensive — if you live without grid electricity, you may need to pay the neighbor who owns a generator, solar cells or car battery to top up your battery. Hence, MTN Nigeria recently reported that 47% of its users had a smartphone but only 27% were active data users (defined as using >5 meg/month). Of course, some of these will be limiting their use to wifi, where they can get it. These issues will obviously intensify as the next billion convert to smartphones (or near-smartphones like KaiOS) in the next few years. There are lots of paths to address this, including the continuing cost efficiencies of cellular, cheaper backhaul (perhaps using LEO satellites), and cheap solar panels (and indeed more wifi). The fratricidal price wars started by Jio in India are another contributor, though you can’t really rely on that to happen globally. But this issue means that on one hand there are actually more than 4bn smartphones in use in some way, but on the other that fewer than 4bn are really online.

What platforms? The platform wars ended a long time ago, and Apple and Google both won (outside China, at least). As one would expect given the range of prices, these devices are not evenly distributed: surveys in the US suggest that over 80% of teenagers have an iPhone, whereas the situation in India is pretty much the reverse. The use of these devices also matters: people who buy high-end phones tend to use them more.

Food Delivery Apps Are Drowning China In Plastic

“The astronomical growth of food delivery apps in China is flooding the country with takeout containers, utensils and bags,” writes Raymond Zhong and Carolyn Zhang for The New York Times. “And the country’s patchy recycling system isn’t keeping up. The vast majority of this plastic ends up discarded, buried or burned with the rest of the trash, researchers and recyclers say.” From the report:

Scientists estimate that the online takeout business in China was responsible for 1.6 million tons of packaging waste in 2017, a ninefold jump from two years before. That includes 1.2 million tons of plastic containers, 175,000 tons of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tons of plastic bags and 44,000 tons of plastic spoons. Put together, it is more than the amount of residential and commercial trash of all kinds disposed of each year by the city of Philadelphia. The total for 2018 grew to an estimated two million tons.

Recyclers manage to return some of China’s plastic trash into usable form to feed the nation’s factories. The country recycles around a quarter of its plastic, government statistics show, compared with less than 10 percent in the United States. But in China, takeout boxes do not end up recycled, by and large. They must be washed first. They weigh so little that scavengers must gather a huge number to amass enough to sell to recyclers. “Half a day’s work for just a few pennies. It isn’t worth it,” said Ren Yong, 40, a garbage collector at a downtown Shanghai office building. He said he threw takeout containers out.

Many people in urban China are using the delivery apps because “delivery is so cheap, and the apps offer such generous discounts, that it is now possible to believe that ordering a single cup of coffee for delivery is a sane, reasonable thing to do,” the report adds.

Parents Are Spending Thousands On YouTube Camps That Teach Kids How To Be Famous

Various YouTube summer camps have begun launching across the nation, designed to turn regular elementary and middle-school-aged children into bonfire internet sensations. Per a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, parents are spending nearly $1,000 dollars a week for their children to learn how to create branded social media-related content. Though YouTube is not affiliated with or in any communication with any summer program, such camps are on the rise, and parents with means have made them a thing.

One summer camp gaining traction is YouTube STAR Creator Studio. Located in Culver City, California, its website states that it “branches out from traditional storytelling to how to create the fun and hilarious content that kids love to watch.” The camp is designed for those in first through sixth grade, according to the website, and charges $375 dollars a week. Another prominent company is Level Up, which, according to the organization, became the first company in North America to offer YouTube classes and camps when it opened five years ago. Level Up takes an educational approach toward the platform to attract kids who “want to learn how to create an awesome YouTube channel,” and promises that the class will give students the “skills to create engaging videos.” The topics covered in Level Up’s the summer camp range from learning how to interview people, draft storyboard ideas, and source and sync audio files.

Despite the rise in programs, many parents interviewed in the Wall Street Journal dismissed the idea of being a “YouTube star,” believing it as nothing more than a hobby for their young children. [Camp director] disagrees, believing that being a YouTuber is a viable career path for the next generation.

“YouTube is now not only the preferred source of entertainment for kids, but it is also now their preferred career choice.”

Phones Can Now Tell Who Is Carrying Them From Their Users’ Gaits

Most online fraud involves identity theft, which is why businesses that operate on the web have a keen interest in distinguishing impersonators from genuine customers. Passwords help. But many can be guessed or are jotted down imprudently. Newer phones, tablets, and laptop and desktop computers often have beefed-up security with fingerprint and facial recognition. But these can be spoofed. To overcome these shortcomings the next level of security is likely to identify people using things which are harder to copy, such as the way they walk. Many online security services already use a system called device fingerprinting. This employs software to note things like the model type of a gadget employed by a particular user; its hardware configuration; its operating system; the apps which have been downloaded onto it; and other features, including sometimes the Wi-Fi networks it regularly connects through and devices like headsets it plugs into.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an American analytics firm, has catalogued more than 4 billion phones, tablets and other computers in this way for banks and other clients. Roughly 7% of them have been used for shenanigans of some sort. But device fingerprinting is becoming less useful. Apple, Google and other makers of equipment and operating systems have been steadily restricting the range of attributes that can be observed remotely. That is why a new approach, behavioral biometrics, is gaining ground. It relies on the wealth of measurements made by today’s devices. These include data from accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors, that reveal how people hold their phones when using them, how they carry them and even the way they walk. Touchscreens, keyboards and mice can be monitored to show the distinctive ways in which someone’s fingers and hands move. Sensors can detect whether a phone has been set down on a hard surface such as a table or dropped lightly on a soft one such as a bed. If the hour is appropriate, this action could be used to assume when a user has retired for the night. These traits can then be used to determine whether someone attempting to make a transaction is likely to be the device’s habitual user.

If used wisely, the report says behavioral biometrics could be used to authenticate account-holders without badgering them for additional passwords or security questions; it could even be used for unlocking the doors of a vehicle once the gait of the driver, as measured by his phone, is recognized, for example.

“Used unwisely, however, the system could become yet another electronic spy, permitting complete strangers to monitor your actions, from the moment you reach for your phone in the morning, to when you fling it on the floor at night,” the report adds.

Thanks To Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever

A confidential Facebook document reviewed by The Intercept shows that Facebook courts carriers, along with phone makers — some 100 different companies in 50 countries — by offering the use of even more surveillance data, pulled straight from your smartphone by Facebook itself.

Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations, interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads.

Some experts are particularly alarmed that Facebook has marketed the use of the information — and appears to have helped directly facilitate its use, along with other Facebook data — for the purpose of screening customers on the basis of likely creditworthiness. Such use could potentially run afoul of federal law, which tightly governs credit assessments. Facebook said it does not provide creditworthiness services and that the data it provides to cellphone carriers and makers does not go beyond what it was already collecting for other uses.

Police using Google Images + Facial Recognition

“The New York Police Department used a photo of Woody Harrelson in its facial recognition program in an attempt to identify a beer thief who looked like the actor,” reports the Associated Press:

Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology highlighted the April 2017 episode in “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” a report on what it says are flawed practices in law enforcement’s use of facial recognition. The report says security footage of the thief was too pixelated and produced no matches while high-quality images of Harrelson, a three-time Oscar nominee, returned several possible matches and led to one arrest.

The NYPD also used a photo of a New York Knicks player to search its database for a man wanted for a Brooklyn assault, the report said.

“The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable â” or wrong â” inputs,” Georgetown researcher Clare Garvie wrote…. The Georgetown report says facial recognition has helped the NYPD crack about 2,900 cases in more than five years of using the technology.

And in Florida, Vice reports, law enforcement agencies “run roughly 8,000 of these searches per month.”

Google Uses Gmail To Track a History of Things You Buy — and It’s Hard To Delete

CNBC’s Todd Haselton has discovered that Google saves years of information on the purchases you’ve made, even outside Google, and pulls this information from Gmail.

A page called “Purchases” shows an accurate list of many — though not all — of the things I’ve bought dating back to at least 2012. I made these purchases using online services or apps such as Amazon, DoorDash or Seamless, or in stores such as Macy’s, but never directly through Google. But because the digital receipts went to my Gmail account, Google has a list of info about my buying habits. Google even knows about things I long forgot I’d purchased, like dress shoes I bought inside a Macy’s store on Sept. 14, 2015.

But there isn’t an easy way to remove all of this. You can delete all the receipts in your Gmail inbox and archived messages. But, if you’re like me, you might save receipts in Gmail in case you need them later for returns. There is no way to delete them from Purchases without also deleting them from Gmail — when you click on the “Delete” option in Purchases, it simply guides you back to the Gmail message. Google’s privacy page says that only you can view your purchases. But it says “Information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services ” and that you can see and delete this information on a separate “My Activity” page. Except you can’t. Google’s activity controls page doesn’t give you any ability to manage the data it stores on Purchases.

Google says you can turn off the tracking entirely, but when CNBC tried this, it didn’t work.

Facebook Contractors Categorize Your Private Posts To Train AI

Facebook uses thousands of third-party staffers around the world to look at Facebook and Instagram posts to help train its AI and to inform new products. “But because the contractors see users’ public and private posts, some view it as a violation of privacy.”

According to Reuters, as many as 260 contract workers in Hyderabad, India have spent more than a year labeling millions of Facebook posts dating back to 2014. They look for the subject of the post, the occasion and the author’s intent, and Facebook told Reuters, the company uses that information to develop new features and to potentially increase usage and ad revenue. Around the globe, Facebook has as many as 200 similar content labeling projects, many of which are used to train the company’s AI.

The contractors working in Hyderabad told Reuters they see everything from text-based status updates to videos, photos and Stories across Facebook and Instagram — including those that are shared privately. And even as Facebook embarks on its “the future is private” platform, one Facebook employee told Reuters he can’t imagine the practice going away. It’s a core part of training AI and developing the company’s products.

How Amazon’s Facial-Recognition Technology is Supercharging Local Police

Deputies in this corner of western Oregon outside ultraliberal Portland used to track down criminals the old-fashioned way, faxing caught-on-camera images of a suspect around the office in hope that someone might recognize the face. Then, in late 2017, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the country known to use Amazon’s artificial-intelligence tool Rekognition, transforming this thicket of forests and suburbs into a public testing ground for a new wave of experimental police surveillance techniques. Almost overnight, deputies saw their investigative powers supercharged, allowing them to scan for matches of a suspect’s face across more than 300,000 mug shots taken at the county jail since 2001. A grainy picture of someone’s face — captured by a security camera, a social media account or a deputy’s smartphone — can quickly become a link to their identity, including their name, family and address.

More than 1,000 facial-recognition searches were logged last year, said deputies, who sometimes used the results to find a suspect’s Facebook page or visit their home… “Just like any of our investigative techniques, we don’t tell people how we catch them,” said Robert Rookhuyzen, a detective on the agency’s major crimes team who said he has run “several dozen” searches and found it helpful about 75% of the time. “We want them to keep guessing…

But lawyers in Oregon said the technology should not be, as many see it, an imminent step forward for the future of policing, and they frame the system not as a technical milestone but a moral one: Is it OK to nab more bad guys if more good guys might get arrested, too? “People love to always say, âHey, if it’s catching bad people, great, who cares,’ ” said Joshua Crowther, a chief deputy defender in Oregon, “until they’re on the other end.”

How Much Do Amazon Deliveries Contribute To Global Warming?

It’s no coincidence that the number of trucks on the road has doubled since Amazon launched in 1994. That’s a huge deal for the climate, as Vox reported last year in an article on the environmental impact of online shopping: “In 2016, transportation overtook power plants as the top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the US for the first time since 1979. Nearly a quarter of the transportation footprint comes from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. And increasingly the impact is coming in what people in the world of supply-chain logistics call ‘the last mile,’ meaning the final stretch from a distribution center to a package’s destination. (The ‘last mile’ can in truth be a dozen miles or more.)”

The good news is that e-commerce has the potential to be less carbon-intensive than brick-and-mortar retail. As Anne Goodchild, director of the University of Washington’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center, told BuzzFeed News, delivery trucks emit “between 20% and 75% less carbon dioxide per customer on average than passenger vehicles driving to [stores].” But that’s only if online stores choose the delivery times themselves. That way, they can pack trucks full of goods and optimize their routes. “When customers choose,” Goodchild noted, “the carbon savings are significantly smaller.”

Thus, Amazon could significantly cut its carbon footprint by prioritizing shipping optimization over consumer convenience…. Americans will have to begin thinking of Amazon.com and other e-commerce sites not as on-demand delivery services for every little thing, but stores that require just as much forethought as a trip to the mall did twenty years ago. And that might be too much to ask of the average consumer in the digital age. In which case, the government might have to step in.

Amazon’s biggest carbon impact comes from its AWS cloud servers, though by the end of 2018 they’d already converted 50% of that to renewable energy, according to the article. And more green efforts may be coming. “For the past eight years, Bezos has ignored requests from the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project, which collects the carbon footprint data of large corporations. But last month, he agreed to eventually make the company’s emissions data public. It’s expected later this year.”

The article also raises the possibility of a future with delivery drones powered by renewable energy. But it adds tht until that day comes, expecting deliveries within 48 hours “is incompatible with solving global warming.”

Uber Admits It Wants To Take Riders Away From Public Transit

“Uber took down the taxi industry and now it wants a piece of public transit,” reports CNN, in an article shared by dryriver:
For years, as it aggressively entered new markets, Uber has maintained that it is a complement and ally of public transit. But that messaging changed earlier this month, when Uber released its S-1 ahead of its upcoming initial public offering. In the regulatory filing, Uber said its growth depends on better competing with public transportation, which it identifies as a $1 trillion market it can grab a share of over the long-term. Uber, which lost $1.8 billion in 2018, said it offers incentives to drivers to scale up its network to attract riders away from personal vehicles and public transportation.

Transportation experts say that if Uber grabs a big chunk of its target market — 4.4 trillion passenger miles on public transportation in the 63 countries in which it operates — cities would grind to a halt, as there would literally be no space to move on streets….

Uber’s rival Lyft didn’t describe public transportation as a competitor in its S-1. But while the corporate mission may be different, in practice there’s little difference, experts say.

“Try to imagine the island of Manhattan, and everyone taking the subway being in a rideshare. It just doesn’t function….” said Christof Spieler, who teaches transportation at Rice University and wrote the book Trains, Buses, People. “It’s a world in which large cities essentially break down.”

And transportation consultant Jarrett Walker tells CNN that while it may make business sense for Uber and Lyft to pursue this strategy, “it may also be a strategy that’s destroying the world.”

‘They’re Basically Lying’ – Mental Health Apps Caught Secretly Sharing Data

“Free apps marketed to people with depression or who want to quit smoking are hemorrhaging user data to third parties like Facebook and Google — but often don’t admit it in their privacy policies, a new study reports…” writes The Verge.

“You don’t have to be a user of Facebook’s or Google’s services for them to have enough breadcrumbs to ID you,” warns Slashdot schwit1. From the article:
By intercepting the data transmissions, they discovered that 92 percent of the 36 apps shared the data with at least one third party — mostly Facebook- and Google-run services that help with marketing, advertising, or data analytics. (Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.) But about half of those apps didn’t disclose that third-party data sharing, for a few different reasons: nine apps didn’t have a privacy policy at all; five apps did but didn’t say the data would be shared this way; and three apps actively said that this kind of data sharing wouldn’t happen. Those last three are the ones that stood out to Steven Chan, a physician at Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, who has collaborated with Torous in the past but wasn’t involved in the new study. “They’re basically lying,” he says of the apps.

Part of the problem is the business model for free apps, the study authors write: since insurance might not pay for an app that helps users quit smoking, for example, the only ways for free app developer to stay afloat is to either sell subscriptions or sell data. And if that app is branded as a wellness tool, the developers can skirt laws intended to keep medical information private.

A few apps even shared what The Verge calls “very sensitive information” like self reports about substance use and user names.

10% of Twitter Users Create 80% of the Tweets

In the United States, 10% of Twitter’s users create 80% of its tweets, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center:
The median user in the top 10% by tweet volume creates 138 tweets per month, “favorites” 70 posts per month, follows 456 accounts, and has 387 followers. By comparison, the median user in the bottom 90% of tweeters creates just two tweets per month, “favorites” one post per month, follows 74 accounts, and has 19 followers. And when asked to report how often they use the platform, fully 81% of these highly active tweeters say they do so every day; 47% of other Twitter users visit the platform with this regularity…

Twitter users also tend to have higher levels of household income and educational attainment relative to the general adult population. Some 42% of adult Twitter users have at least a bachelor’s degree — 11 percentage points higher than the overall share of the public with this level of education (31%). Similarly, the number of adult Twitter users reporting a household income above $75,000 is 9 points greater than the same figure in the general population: 41% vs. 32%.

Hacker Can Monitor Cars And Kill Their Engines After Breaking Into GPS Tracking Apps

A hacker broke into thousands of accounts belonging to users of two GPS tracker apps, giving him the ability to monitor the locations of tens of thousands of vehicles and even turn off the engines for some of them while they were in motion. The hacker, who goes by the name L&M, told Motherboard he hacked into more than 7,000 iTrack accounts and more than 20,000 ProTrack accounts, two apps that companies use monitor and manage fleets of vehicles through GPS tracking devices. The hacker was able to track vehicles in a handful of countries around the world, including South Africa, Morocco, India, and the Philippines. On some cars, the software has the capability of remotely turning off the engines of vehicles that are stopped or are traveling 12 miles per hour or slower, according to the manufacturer of certain GPS tracking devices.

By reverse engineering ProTrack and iTrack’s Android apps, L&M said he realized that all customers are given a default password of 123456 when they sign up. At that point, the hacker said he brute-forced ‘millions of usernames’ via the apps’ API. Then, he said he wrote a script to attempt to login using those usernames and the default password. This allowed him to automatically break into thousands of accounts that were using the default password and extract data from them.

Applying For Your Next Job May Be an Automated Nightmare

If you think looking for a job is already daunting, anxiety-riddled, and unpleasant, just wait until the algorithms take over the hiring process. When they do, a newfangled ‘digital recruiter’ like VCV, which just received $1.7 million in early investment, hopes it will look something like this: First, a search bot will be used to scan CVs by the thousands, yours presumably among them. If it’s picked out of the haystack, you will be contacted by a chatbot. Over SMS, the bot will set an appointment for a phone interview, which will be conducted by an automated system enabled by voice recognition AI. Next, the system will ask you, the applicant, to record video responses to a set of predetermined interview questions. Finally, the program can use facial recognition and predictive analytics to complete the screening, algorithmically determining whether the nervousness, mood, and behavior patterns you exhibit make you a fit for the company. If you pass all that, then you will be recommended for an in-person job interview.

[…] VCV, which did not respond to a request for comment, is far from alone here. A growing suite of startups is pitching AI-driven recruitment services, promising to save corporations millions of dollars throughout the hiring process by reducing overhead, to pluck more ideal candidates out of obscurity, and to reduce bias in the hiring process. Most offer little to no evidence of how they actually do so. VCV’s much-larger competitor, HireVue, which has raked in a staggering $93 million in funding and is backed by top-tier Silicon Valley venture capital firms like Sequoia, is hocking many of the same services. It counts 700 companies as its clients, including, it says, Urban Outfitters, Intel, Honeywell, and Unilever. AllyO, which was founded in 2015, and “utilizes deep workflow conversational AI to fully automate end to end recruiting workflow” has $19 million in backing.

The Feds Are Dropping Child Porn Cases Instead of Revealing Their Surveillance Systems

The Department of Justice has been dismissing child pornography cases in order to not reveal information about the software programs used as the basis for the charges. An array of cases suggest serious problems with the tech tools used by federal authorities. But the private entities who developed these tools won’t submit them for independent inspection or hand over hardly any information about how they work, their error rates, or other critical information. As a result, potentially innocent people are being smeared as pedophiles and prosecuted as child porn collectors, while potentially guilty people are going free so these companies can protect “trade secrets.” The situation suggests some of the many problems that can arise around public-private partnerships in catching criminals and the secretive digital surveillance software that it entails (software that’s being employed for far more than catching child predators).

With the child pornography cases, “the defendants are hardly the most sympathetic,” notes Tim Cushing at Techdirt. Yet that’s all the more reason why the government’s antics here are disturbing. Either the feds initially brought bad cases against people whom they just didn’t think would fight back, or they’re willing to let bad behavior go rather than face some public scrutiny. An extensive investigation by ProPublica “found more than a dozen cases since 2011 that were dismissed either because of challenges to the software’s findings, or the refusal by the government or the maker to share the computer programs with defense attorneys, or both,” writes Jack Gillum. Many more cases raised issues with the software as a defense. “Defense attorneys have long complained that the government’s secrecy claims may hamstring suspects seeking to prove that the software wrongly identified them,” notes Gillum. “But the growing success of their counterattack is also raising concerns that, by questioning the software used by investigators, some who trade in child pornography can avoid punishment.”

Scientists Have Developed a Brain Implant That Can Read People’s Minds

The team at the University of California, San Francisco says the technology is “exhilarating.” They add that their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help people when disease robs them of their ability to talk. The mind-reading technology works in two stages. First an electrode is implanted in the brain to pick up the electrical signals that maneuver the lips, tongue, voice box and jaw. Then powerful computing is used to simulate how the movements in the mouth and throat would form different sounds. This results in synthesized speech coming out of a “virtual vocal tract.”