Weekly Axis Of Easy #41
In this issue:
- Who is Cambridge Analytica?
- EFF Warns CLOUD Act end-runs 4th Amendment
- Same as it ever was: Flash player needs patching. Again.
- Web inventor says it’s time to regulate Big Tech
- New Orleans tries its hand at tech powered “pre-crime”
- Sierra Leone runs world’s first election using blockchain
Hardly anybody had ever heard of these guys until details emerged that the Trump campaign hired them to gather data during the 2016 election campaign. They are a private data analysis firm that purportedly holds “5000 data points” on every American citizen. The story that emerged is that using an app whose creation was sponsored by a psychology professor named Dr. Aleksandr Korgan, they amassed data on 50 million Facebook users. Facebook later tried to dial that number down, to 270,000 verified app downloads.
Meanwhile, Edward Snowden has come out and more or less called Facebook itself for what it is: “A surveillance company re-branded as ‘social media’”.
To quote directly from EFF’s post about this: “There’s a new, proposed backdoor to our data, which would bypass our Fourth Amendment protections to communications privacy. It is built into a dangerous bill called the CLOUD Act, which would allow police at home and abroad to seize cross-border data without following the privacy rules where the data is stored.”
Update your Flash. Again. Next.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a letter to mark the 29th anniversary of the World Wide Web that he invented. In it he outlines concerns around how the “Big Tech” platforms, such as Google and Facebook are sucking all the oxygen from what was supposed to be a global, empowering network for all and maybe it’s time they should be regulated.
He names two “myths” which dominate the network economy today, the first is that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies. (As an aside I think blockchain, crypto-currencies will open the door to micropayment models which could end-run current advertising models). The second myth is that it is too late to change the way platforms operate. I agree. That may seem hard to fathom today, but if you’ve been paying attention to the internet unfolding, today’s 800 lb gorillas routinely turn into yesterday’s MySpace and Yahoos.
The ACLU reports on an initiative at the New Orleans Police Department to aggregate various “big data” sources and apply machine learning to try to predict who “is likely to be involved in a violent crime”. The technique is called “Social Network Analysis” (“SNA”) to collate relationships between people, places, social media posts and “other previously siloed databases”.
In a similar vein an expose by WRAL TV in Raleigh, North Carolina describes how police are turning to Google’s ample cache of metadata to connect the dots on seemingly disparate crimes, some of them separated by years.
For those who buy into the notion that “despite existing for 10 years nobody has thought of an actual application for ‘Blockchain’” may want to take a look at the African country of Sierra Leone. They just carried out the world’s first election using a blockchain, storing 70% of the votes anonymously and immutably on a public ledger, enabling real-time visibility of the election results.
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