Weekly Axis Of Easy #116
Last Week’s Quote was: “It isn’t the rebels who cause the troubles of the world; it’s the troubles that cause the rebels.” by Carl Oglesby, the only person who got it was Tony King, who already won this year. The amount of Tony’s second renewal has been duly credited to my Swiss bank account.
This Week’s Quote: “As civilization has become more complex, the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented” ….by ????
THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted below.
The Prize: First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal is on us.
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US tech apps also send pics to Swiss police
Darknet server farm found in NATO bunker
Kamala Harris asks Twitter to deplatform President Trump
France set to roll out nationwide facial recognition ID program
SEC orders Plexcoin founders to pay 7 million for fraudulent ICO
China and Taiwan duke it out via Wikipedia edits
EU court rules explicit consent required for tracking cookies
Experts say DNS-over-HTTPS causes more problems than it solves
Last week we covered the forthcoming CLOUD Act treaty, which I neglected to call by name in the piece. It’s the data sharing treaty that gives UK and US search warrants validity in each other’s countries. I didn’t think what I wrote last week was very clear after I read Justin Paine’s comment on AxisOfEasy (podcast edition) over on LinkedIn. Justin runs the abuse desk over at Cloudflare and is quite clueful in these matters.
To clarify: nobody is forcing US companies to break encryption, which underscores the reality that encryption in apps like WhatsApp are not end-to-end because there is a point in the process where the vendor can still intercept them.
An avid reader from Switzerland also sent me an item describing how a similar mechanism exists between US and Swiss authorities. This arrangement has US apps sending thousands of photos to the Swiss National Police. Google and Facebook have algorithms that scan for the presence of bare flesh in photos of kids and sends any hits to agency. Last year over 9000 photos were transmitted, and 10% were found to be of a criminal nature (that still seems high to me).
This one kind of blew my mind. German police managed to take down a darknet server farm after a five year investigation. The operation was engaged in the sale of illegal drugs, forged documents, stolen data, child pr***ography and was being used as a base for launching “large scale cyber attacks”.
What made it tricky for the police, when they finally figured out where the server farm was how to move in and shut it down. It was located within a “former NATO bunker”, surrounded by high fencing and heavily guarded. (Ian Fleming called, he wants his super-villain underground complex back for the next Bond flick).
When I wrote The Cultural Purge Will Not Be Televised back in 2016 I had no idea how bad cancel-culture and deplatforming attacks were going to get over the ensuing years. With no end in sight, presidential contender Kamala Harris has sent a letter to Twitter containing a formal request to suspend President Trump’s Twitter account. Look, I realize that because we mentioned “The T-word” we run the risk of inducing either type of TDS in our readers (Type 1 TDS = Trump Derangement Syndrome, Type 2 TDS = Trump Divinity Syndrome), our point is that deplatforming anybody sets a horrible precedent no matter how accurate or superior you think your own moral interpretation of events is.
I don’t know if Harris expected to be taken seriously or was just doing it for press, but imagine if she were successful and Twitter nuked Trump’s account? 1) There would be some form of executive authority reaction and it would not be a good one. 2) Trump would probably end up moving to Gab. And we know how much the left-of-center folks love Gab, who are themselves the subject of a sustained, coordinated deplatforming incidents. It would probably give them the critical mass to blow the lid right off the microblogging landscape. Think it through people.
My new book is all about defending against this and it’s almost done: Unassailable: Defend your Content against Deplatform Attacks, Cancel-Culture and other Online Disasters should be out by the end of this month.
China has their Sesame Credit, France will soon have Alicem, a nationwide facial recognition database that will serve to become digital ID for all its citizens. The country is accelerating its plans for deployment, originally scheduled for Christmas, even sooner. This despite the headwinds of
- The country’s own data regulator saying it violates EU law on consent (or lack of)
- A privacy group challenging it in France’s highest court
- Hackers were able to break it in under an hour
None of which is dissuading that country’s Ministry of the Interior from soldiering on and ramming this through, despite ample evidence that facial recognition software can be easily fooled and still has a long way to go. This article from the Tenth Amendment Centre notes how face reading functions are just not very accurate, particularly when attempting to identify visible minorities. In one test, the system misidentified 26 members of congress as people in a database of arrest photos (pre-crime, perhaps?)
On a related note I also thought of this when I listened recently to Quoth The Raven #150 with Doug Williams, a former police officer and polygraph operator who talks about how so-called lie detector tests are useless, can easily be circumvented and don’t actually detect “lies”. PSA: Do NOT listen to this podcast, or any other episode of QTR when young children are in earshot. Not unless you want them to grow up sounding like Andrew Dice Clay.
When Plexcoin came out in 2017 I was undergoing ICO fatigue as literally anything was being tokenized. So I missed the Plexcoin fracas where they raised $15 million ahead of an ICO promising things like 13X return within a month (that pencils out to 1,354% in 29 days) and then the SEC halted the ICO and one of the founders of the project earned himself 2 months in jail on a Canadian contempt of court charge.
The SEC handed down a $7 million fine as part of the settlement amid a flurry of ICO enforcement decisions in September.
The top court in the EU has handed down a decision that is being described as a game changer for the adtech industry with the stroke of a pen. They ruled that websites must receive explicit consent from the user before placing tracking cookies in the browser. Pre-checked consent boxes were struck down as invalid, and firms face hefty fines under EU privacy laws. The ruling also stipulates that the website must provide information to the user about the duration of the cookie and whether third-parties have access to it.
The case stemmed from a German website called Planet49 that required users to accept cookies before playing a promotional game.
The BBC reports on how the status of Taiwan keeps oscillating between “a state in East Asia” and “province in the People’s Republic of China”, at least as far as its Wikipedia page goes. It seems there are concerted “edit wars” going on across numerous pages at the crowdsourced encyclopedia. In some cases the English version of a term will say one thing while the Mandarin version says something completely different (the Mandarin version describing the 1989 Tianaman Square protests calls it “The June 4th Incident to quell the counter-revolutionary riots”. (Tell me a bureaucrat didn’t write that one.)
Wikipedia of course, being just another front on the culture wars. If you’re not part of the in club of Silicon Valley, or otherwise towing the line of conventional narrative, don’t be surprised when your Wikipedia entry reads like a hit piece.
Last week we reported how Google’s new DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) was drawing some anti-trust attention from the US House Judiciary Committee. A reader forwarded me an article that talks about how experts say DNS-over-Https creates more problems than it solves.
I hadn’t thought about it too much before I read the article, the reason why is because I had already surmised that the companies proffering DoH solutions aren’t doing it to protect your privacy as much as to monopolize it. This is what DoH does accomplish: It does block your ISP from being able to datamine your DNS lookups. It makes it so that only your DoH provider can datamine your DNS lookups. Given who the early players are in this space (Google, Cloudflare), I’d say this is exactly what they’re doing.
There is also some concerns that Mozilla is changing the way Firefox works to route your DNS queries to Cloudflare regardless of what you have you DNS resolver set to (a good overview of the controversy, along with a technical comparison of the various resolver services, and how to disable Firefox defaulting to Cloudflare is this article.
Other points in the article are that DoH doesn’t solve the problems it’s espoused to solve anyway, and that your ISPs still have numerous ways to track you. One of the experts quoted was PowerDNS co-founder Bert Hubert, probably one of the most knowledgeable DNS experts on the planet.
Again, I see an impetus to running one’s own resolver on your own device. If anybody has any bandwidth and experience launching open source projects, I have some ideas around a decentralized resolver initiative. Hit me up.
(h/t to James Lethbridge)