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College Students Say Ditching Their Smartphones For a Week Changed Their Lives

It was part of a college course intended to break the powerful addiction of smartphones… an Adelphi University course called “Life Unplugged” where students did the unthinkable one week ago — handed over their smartphones. “I’m freaking out, I could probably cry right now,” one student said. It was a bold experiment to recognize today’s compulsive relationships with ever present devices. Seven days later, “who’s excited they’re getting their phones back today?” Professor Donna Freitas asked.

Gone were the nerves and the shakes. “Everything is perfect right now. I’m having a lot better relationships… it’s a stress free environment no pressure about social media,” Jacob Dannenberg said.

“I think it’s really refreshing and relaxing… I was able to fall asleep a lot easier,” student Adrianna Cigliano.

They managed to find their way, even without GPS for a week. “I just had to take the same route everywhere,” one student joked. They were also more productive. “Doing homework was 100 percent easier. I got it done faster, I was in the zone,” Cigliano said.

Prof. Freitas says it’s important for everyone to assess their addiction. “Are the conveniences worth it because the drawback are pretty significant,” Freitas said. “The face that no one can focus, that my students can’t sleep… They feel bad about themselves because of social media, the list goes on and on.”

Nearly Half of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Devices, Study Finds

According to a new survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey, 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device. By comparison, only 32% of parents say they’re addicted themselves. USA Today reports: Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids’ mental health. Nearly one in five say they’re “extremely” or “very” concerned. According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it’s up to them to curb their children’s smartphone usage. The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data. Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube — which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos — offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before. Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it’s the parents’ job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.

Study of Over 11,000 Online Stores Finds ‘Dark Patterns’ on 1,254 sites

A large-scale academic study that analyzed more than 53,000 product pages on more than 11,000 online stores found widespread use of user interface “dark patterns” — practices meant to mislead customers into making purchases based on false or misleading information.

The study — presented last week at the ACM CSCW 2019 conference — found 1,818 instances of dark patterns present on 1,254 of the ~11K shopping websites (~11.1%) researchers scanned. “Shopping websites that were more popular, according to Alexa rankings, were more likely to feature dark patterns,” researchers said. But while the vast majority of UI dark patterns were meant to trick users into subscribing to newsletters or allowing broad data collection, some dark patterns were downright foul, trying to mislead users into making additional purchases, either by sneaking products into shopping carts or tricking users into believing products were about to sell out. Of these, the research team found 234 instances, deployed across 183 websites.

The Drone Wars Are Already Here

The skies of Syria, Yemen, and Libya swarm with armed and dangerous unmanned aerial vehicles. And the technology is spreading farther and farther afield. Three decades ago, drones were available to only the most technologically developed state military organizations. Today they’re everywhere, being used by weaker states and small military forces, as well as many non-state actors, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda. “We’re seeing a cycle of technological innovation regarding the use of drones and associated systems, and that cycle of techno-tactical adaptation and counter-adaptation will only hasten going forward,” says Raphael Marcus, a research fellow in the department of war studies at King’s College London.

The diffusion of such technology is leveling the playing field, says Marcus, author of Israel’s Long War With Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire. He says that because armies no longer have the monopoly on the use of drones, surveillance technology, precision capabilities, and long-range missiles, other actors in the region are able to impose their will on the international stage. “The parameters have changed,” he says. That’s already leading to greater instability. For example, Hezbollah’s thwarted drone strike in August and increasingly sophisticated and more frequent drone attacks by Hamas raise the risk of another war with Israel; meanwhile, Yemen’s Houthi rebels made an impact on the global price of oil with a strike on Saudi Arabia, using 25 drones and missiles.

The Institute for Strategic Research in Paris has already recommended that NATO and European militaries ready themselves for drone threats in future conflicts. The institute also urged countries to cooperate on a joint research and development strategy to defend against the threat in a report issued in September.

Does that mean that future wars will be automated? “Drones will definitely be taking more important roles in the next few years, but they aren’t about to replace soldiers,” says Ben Nassi, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. For that to happen, he says, drones will need longer battery life and the development of a centralized computer command-and-control server that will allow a single person to control a swarm of drones, similar to how individual players manage their militaries in a computer game.

Spain and GitHub Are Blocking an App That Helped Protesters Organize

For the last month, hundreds of thousands of people have joined demonstrations in Spain to voice their objection to the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders and support Catalonian independence. As with almost all modern activist and public protest movements, activists are using social media and apps to communicate with and organize public actions. But this week, in a move that puts the Spanish government on par with censorship-heavy places like China and Russia, the country requested that Github block access to one of those apps, by revoking local access to its Github repository. Github, which is owned by Microsoft, complied with the order.

According to Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, last week the government ordered takedowns of websites and app made by Tsunami Democratic, an activist group organizing protests in the region. To try to keep access to the app download alive, Tsunami Democratic moved the .apk file to Github. But the government shut that down, too, blocking the site in Spain. Motherboard tested the download using a VPN, and the Github repo was blocked from Madrid.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Says He Fears ‘Erosion of Truth’ But Defends Allowing Politicians To Lie in Ads

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview he worries “about an erosion of truth” online but defended the policy that allows politicians to peddle ads containing misrepresentations and lies on his social network, a stance that has sparked an outcry during the 2020 presidential campaign. From a report:

“People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech Thursday at Georgetown University. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.” Zuckerberg’s approach to political speech has come under fire in recent weeks. Democrats have taken particular issue with Facebook’s decision to allow an ad from President Trump’s 2020 campaign that included falsehoods about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to Facebook’s decision by running her own campaign ad, satirically stating that Zuckerberg supports Trump for re-election.

Zuckerberg framed the issue as part of a broader debate over free expression, warning about the dangers of social networks, including Facebook, “potentially cracking down too much.” He called on the U.S. to set an example for tailored regulation in contrast to other countries, including China, that censor political speech online. And Zuckerberg stressed Facebook must stand strong against governments that seek to “pull back” on free speech in the face of heightened social and political tensions. Zuckerberg’s appearance in Washington marks his most forceful attempt to articulate his vision for how governments and tech giants should approach the Web’s most intractable problems. The scale of Facebook and its affiliated apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, which make up a virtual community of billions of users, poses challenges for Zuckerberg and regulators around the world as they struggle to contain hate speech, falsehoods, violent imagery and terrorist propaganda on social media.

Google Chief: I’d Disclose Smart Speakers Before Guests Enter My Home

After being challenged as to whether homeowners should tell guests smart devices — such as a Google Nest speaker or Amazon Echo display — are in use before they enter the building, Google senior vice president of devices and services, Rick Osterloh, concludes that the answer is indeed yes. The BBC reports:

“Gosh, I haven’t thought about this before in quite this way,” Rick Osterloh begins. “It’s quite important for all these technologies to think about all users… we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity.” And then he commits. “Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate.”

To be fair to Google, it hasn’t completely ignored matters of 21st Century privacy etiquette until now. As Mr Osterloh points out, its Nest cameras shine an LED light when they are in record mode, which cannot be overridden. But the idea of having to run around a home unplugging or at least restricting the capabilities of all its voice- and camera-equipped kit if a visitor objects is quite the ask.

The concession came at the end of one-on-one interview given to BBC News to mark the launch of Google’s Pixel 4 smartphones, a new Nest smart speaker and other products. You can read the full conversation on the BBC’s article.

Her iPhone Died. It Led To Her Being Charged As a Criminal

Chris Matyszczyk from ZDNet retells the draconian story of a Financial Times writer who wasn’t able to prove she purchased a ticket for the London buses because her phone died (she used Apple Pay), which led to her being charged a criminal. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report:

Today’s witness is Jemima Kelly. She’s a writer for The Financial Times. Please don’t let any personal thoughts about that get in the way of her story. You see, she just experienced a little technological nightmare. A cheery digital convert, she admits she often leaves the house without her wallet. But surely not without her iPhone. Apple Pay is, after all, a contemporary joy. It’s right up there with Tinder in its ability to make your life easier.

Kelly, indeed, hops on London buses and uses Apple Pay to tap her payment instead of buying a ticket the old-fashioned way. Which, as she cheerily described, is easy unless a ticket inspector wanders by. Just after your iPhone’s battery has died. She couldn’t prove that she’d paid, but gave her personal details and assumed there’d be a record of her probity on the transportation company’s computers. But then she was charged with, well, not providing proof of payment. Charged as in would be forced to go to court and to plead guilty or not guilty within 21 days. Here’s where things got (more) awkward. Kelly produced a bank statement that proved she’d paid. The transportation company — Transport For London — insisted this wasn’t enough.

It seems she’d failed another digital task — registering her Apple Pay with Transport For London. She was edging ever closer to criminal status. But did her Apple Pay details need to be registered? Kelly revealed: “They told me, ‘there is no requirement for cards to be registered, the same as paying for any goods and services in a shop’. But it’s not the same, actually; in a shop, you are given a breakdown in the form of a receipt.” So, here she was, contactless and receiptless. Next, she heard that her court case had happened and she’d been found guilty. Oh, and she also owed a fine of around $592.
In the end, Kelly managed to get back to court and persuade the judge to void her conviction, but the process took months.

“Her story, however, aptly describes how the digital world demands our complete and unyielding participation,” writes Matyszczyk. “Digital systems are designed by those who strive for complete perfection and consistency. Which doesn’t describe the human condition at all.” Do you think digitizing everything is a good thing?

Twitter Executive Is Also A British Army ‘Psyops’ Solider

“The senior Twitter executive with editorial responsibility for the Middle East is also a part-time officer in the British Army’s psychological warfare unit,” reports Middle East Eye:
The 77th Brigade uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as podcasts, data analysis and audience research to wage what the head of the UK military, General Nick Carter, describes as “information warfare”. Carter says the 77th Brigade is giving the British military “the capability to compete in the war of narratives at the tactical level”; to shape perceptions of conflict. Some soldiers who have served with the unit say they have been engaged in operations intended to change the behaviour of target audiences.

What exactly MacMillan is doing with the unit is difficult to determine, however: he has declined to answer any questions about his role, as has Twitter and the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Responding to the article, the British army told Newsweek their brigade had no relationship with Twitter, “other than using Twitter as one of many social media platforms for engagement and communication.” And Twitter reminded Newsweek that “We proactively publish all tweets and accounts relating to state-backed foreign information operations on the service — regardless of the source. We built this industry-leading archive to promote better public understanding of these threats.”
Despite the assertions of Twitter and the British military, academics and researchers have said the division between the two is not so clear. David Miller — a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at England’s University of Bristol, who studies propaganda and public relations efforts concerning the British government — is one such academic. He told Newsweek he believes a link is there, adding that it was a “threat to our democracy.”

“I would say I know a good amount about army propaganda and ‘psyops’ operations as they’re called, but what is interesting is how little information we have 77th Brigade,” he said.” I suppose it means that all their work is covert, but what I would like to know is what they exactly are they doing? Are they just tracking accounts or are they trying to influence people’s views? What we do know is that their account itself is hidden by Twitter so we assume they are trying to influence people under the operatives’ own names. And because we know so little about exactly what they’re doing, we have to look elsewhere for clues for example.

The professor also argues that Twitter is deceiving us by “not acting as transparently as it could. If they are working with army personnel in this way, it is extremely damaging to our democracy. Given Twitter’s closure of accounts alleged to be used by foreign governments, it’s a very hypocritical stance of Twitter to take.”

YouTube is Experimenting With Ways To Make Its Algorithm Even More Addictive

While YouTube has publicly said that it’s working on addressing problems that are making its website ever so addictive to users, a new paper from Google, which owns YouTube, seems to tell a different story.

It proposes an update to the platform’s algorithm that is meant to recommend even more targeted content to users in the interest of increasing engagement. Here’s how YouTube’s recommendation system currently works. To populate the recommended-videos sidebar, it first compiles a shortlist of several hundred videos by finding ones that match the topic and other features of the one you are watching. Then it ranks the list according to the user’s preferences, which it learns by feeding all your clicks, likes, and other interactions into a machine-learning algorithm. Among the proposed updates, the researchers specifically target a problem they identify as “implicit bias.” It refers to the way recommendations themselves can affect user behavior, making it hard to decipher whether you clicked on a video because you liked it or because it was highly recommended. The effect is that over time, the system can push users further and further away from the videos they actually want to watch.

To reduce this bias, the researchers suggest a tweak to the algorithm: each time a user clicks on a video, it also factors in the video’s rank in the recommendation sidebar. Videos that are near the top of the sidebar are given less weight when fed into the machine-learning algorithm; videos deep down in the ranking, which require a user to scroll, are given more. When the researchers tested the changes live on YouTube, they found significantly more user engagement. Though the paper doesn’t say whether the new system will be deployed permanently, Guillaume Chaslot, an ex-YouTube engineer who now runs AlgoTransparency.org, said he was “pretty confident” that it would happen relatively quickly.

Facebook Confirms Its ‘Standards’ Don’t Apply To Politicians

Facebook this week finally put into writing what users — especially politically powerful users — have known for years: its community “standards” do not, in fact, apply across the whole community. Speech from politicians is officially exempt from the platform’s fact checking and decency standards, the company has clarified, with a few exceptions. Facebook communications VP Nick Clegg, himself a former member of the UK Parliament, outlined the policy in a speech and company blog post Tuesday. Facebook has had a “newsworthiness exemption” to its content guidelines since 2016. That policy was formalized in late October of that year amid a contentious and chaotic US political season and three weeks before the presidential election that would land Donald Trump the White House.

Facebook at the time was uncertain how to handle posts from the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. Sources told the paper that Facebook employees were sharply divided over the candidate’s rhetoric about Muslim immigrants and his stated desire for a Muslim travel ban, which several felt were in violation of the service’s hate speech standards. Eventually, the sources said, CEO Mark Zuckerberg weighed in directly and said it would be inappropriate to intervene. Months later, Facebook finally issued its policy. “We’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Facebook wrote at the time.
Facebook by default “will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.” It won’t be subject to fact-checking because the company does not believe that it is appropriate for it to “referee political debates” or prevent a politician’s speech from both reaching its intended audience and “being subject to public debate and scrutiny.”

Newsworthiness, Clegg added, will be determined by weighing the “public interest value of the piece of speech” against the risk of harm. The exception to all of this is advertising. “Standards are different for content for which the company receives payment, so if someone — even a politician or political candidate — posts ads to Facebook, those ads in theory must still meet both the community standards and Facebook’s advertising policies,” reports Ars.

Politicians Can Break Our Content Rules, YouTube CEO Says

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said this week that content by politicians would stay up on the video-sharing website even if it violates the company’s standards, echoing a position staked out by Facebook this week.

“When you have a political officer that is making information that is really important for their constituents to see, or for other global leaders to see, that is content that we would leave up because we think it’s important for other people to see,” Wojcicki told an audience at The Atlantic Festival this morning. Wojcicki said the news media is likely to cover controversial content regardless of whether it’s taken down, giving context to understand it. YouTube is owned by Google. A YouTube spokesperson later told POLITICO that politicians are not treated differently than other users and must abide by its community guidelines. The company grants exemptions to some political speech if the company considers it to be educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic in nature.

Social media stress can lead to social media addiction

Social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Instagram are known to cause stress in users, known as technostress from social media. However, when faced with such stress, instead of switching off or using them less, people are moving from one aspect of the social media platforms to another — escaping the causes of their stress without leaving the medium on which it originated.

Research into the habits of 444 Facebook users revealed they would switch between activities such as chatting to friends, scanning news feeds and posting updates as each began to cause stress. This leads to an increased likelihood of technology addiction, as they use the various elements of the platform over a greater timespan.

Researchers from Lancaster University, the University of Bamberg and Friedrich-Alexander Univeristät Erlangen-Nürnberg, writing in Information Systems Journal, found that users were seeking distraction and diversion within the Facebook platform as a coping mechanism for stress caused by the same platform, rather than switching off and undertaking a different activity.

Facial Recognition Deployed on Children at Hundreds of US Summer Camps

The Washington Post describes a parent whose phone “rings 10 times a day with notifications from the summer camp’s facial-recognition service, which alerts him whenever one of his girls is photographed enjoying their newfound independence.”

You can also call your kid if you think they look unhappy or if you are unsatisfied with them in any way and nag them. So kids mob photographers with big, fake smiles and beg to be photographed so their parents won’t harass them.

The companies have “privacy policies” that grossly overreach, giving them perpetual licenses to distribute all the photos they take forever, for any purpose. They claim to have super-secure data-centers, but won’t describe what makes them so sure their data centers are more secure than, say, the NSA’s, Equifax, or any of the other “super secure” data centers that have been breached and dumped in recent memory.

And while parents enjoy all this looking at their kids while they’re away in theory, they also report a kind of free-floating anxiety because they know just enough about their kids’ lives at camp to worry, but not enough to assuage their worries.

One overseer of two camps tells the Post that more concerned parents call her in two hours than used to call in an entire month. One company adds that their service is now being used by over 160,000 parents — and for children as young as six.

At least one camp takes over 1,000 photos each day — scanning each one with facial recognition technology — and the Post reports that facial-recognition technology has now already been deployed at “hundreds” of summer camps all across the United States.

Most camp directors said they appreciate that the photos can bring peace of mind to lonely parents worried about their kids’ first faraway solo trip. But the photos can also end up perpetuating a cycle of parental anxiety: The more photos the camp posts, the more the parents seem to want – and the more questions they’ll ask about their kids.

When a camper isn’t smiling or is on the outside of a big group shot, counselors said they know to expect a phone call from back home. Liz Young, a longtime camp director now helping oversee two camps on the coast of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, said she now fields as many concerned-parents calls in two hours as she used to get all month – mostly from parents asking about how their kids look on camera, or whether they’re being photographed enough.

One camp, Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods in rural Decatur, Michigan, has four photographers and a social-media director on staff to help push nearly constant updates onto Bunk1, Facebook and Instagram, where recent photos of kids jumping into a lake or firing bows and arrows have netted hundreds of comments and “likes.” The facial-recognition system is in its second summer at the camp, and roughly half of all parents of its campers have signed up.

Some of the kids, Hardin said, are so accustomed to constant photography that they barely notice the camera crew. It’s the parents, she said, who struggle with the distance – and who are desperate for the reassurance the facial-recognition systems provide.

Some parents race to share the photos on social media as a way to curate their kids’ childhood and offer visual evidence that their family is worth envying.

The photos could inflame new tensions for kids hitting the age – generally, in the pre- and early teens – when they can start to feel awkward about all the photos their parents post. But they can also foster unease for kids questioning how much of their emotions and internal lives they’re comfortable sharing in every moment, even when they’re far from home.

“There’s the contradiction of these really old-fashioned summer camps with no electricity in the cabins, no cellphones . . . but the parents can check in daily to look at the expressions on their kids’ faces,” she added. “Part of childhood development is: It isn’t always 100 percent smiling.”

America’s Elderly Seem More Screen-Obsessed Than the Young

Many parents and grandparents will grumble about today’s screen-obsessed youth. Indeed, researchers find that millennials look at their phones more than 150 times a day; half of them check their devices in the middle of the night; a third glance at them immediately after waking up. And yet, when all screens are accounted for, it is in fact older folk who seem most addicted. According to Nielsen, a market-research firm, Americans aged 65 and over spend nearly ten hours a day consuming media on their televisions, computers and smartphones. That is 12% more than Americans aged 35 to 49, and a third more than those aged 18 to 34 (the youngest cohort for whom Nielsen has data).

American seniors “spend an average of seven hours and 30 minutes in front of the box, about as much as they did in 2015,” the report says. “The spend another two hours staring at their smartphones, a more than seven-fold increase from four years ago.”

Millennials have increased the time they spend on their mobile devices, but it’s been largely offset by their dwindling interest in TV. As for teenagers, a report from 2015 by Common Sense Media “found that American teens aged 13-18 spent about six hours and 40 minutes per day on screens: slightly more than Nielsen recorded for 18- to 34-year-olds that year, but less than older generations.”

Yahoo Japan Is Under Fire for Its China-Like Rating System

Some users of Yahoo Japan are rising up against Japan’s biggest web portal after the rollout of a new rating system that’s being compared with a social-scoring initiative in China. The 48 million people with a Yahoo! Japan ID will have to opt-out within a privacy settings webpage if they don’t want to be rated. The score is based on a variety of factors and is calculated based on inputs such as payment history, shopping reviews, whether a user canceled bookings and the amount of identifiable personal information. Unless users opt out, their ratings may be accessible to freelance jobs site Crowdworks, Yahoo’s bike-sharing service and other businesses. Makoto Niida, a longtime Yahoo user, opted out of the rating system when he learned about it. “It’s a big deal that the service was enabled by default,” Niida said. “The way they created services that benefit businesses without clear explanations to their users reminds me of Chinaâ(TM)s surveillance society.” Yahoo’s new credit-score program follows efforts by Mizuho Financial Group, NTT Docomo and other companies to use algorithms to assign ratings to consumers. Japan doesn’t have a system similar to FICO in the U.S., so businesses in the world’s third-largest economy have come up with their own solutions to determine financial trustworthiness.

Do Google and Facebook Threaten Our ‘Ambient Privacy’?

Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. Even police states like East Germany, where one in seven citizens was an informer, were not able to keep tabs on their entire population. Today computers have given us that power. Authoritarian states like China and Saudi Arabia are using this newfound capacity as a tool of social control. Here in the United States, we’re using it to show ads. But the infrastructure of total surveillance is everywhere the same, and everywhere being deployed at scale….

Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. Congress has remained silent on the matter, with both parties content to watch Silicon Valley make up its own rules. The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don’t really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.

That is not consent…

Our discourse around privacy needs to expand to address foundational questions about the role of automation: To what extent is living in a surveillance-saturated world compatible with pluralism and democracy? What are the consequences of raising a generation of children whose every action feeds into a corporate database? What does it mean to be manipulated from an early age by machine learning algorithms that adaptively learn to shape our behavior? That is not the conversation Facebook or Google want us to have. Their totalizing vision is of a world with no ambient privacy and strong data protections, dominated by the few companies that can manage to hoard information at a planetary scale. They correctly see the new round of privacy laws as a weapon to deploy against smaller rivals, further consolidating their control over the algorithmic panopticon.

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.

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.