Android

Is Big Tech Merging With Big Brother? Kinda Looks Like It

social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or traveling abroad.China’s social rating system, which was announced by the ruling Communist Party in 2014, will soon be a fact of life for many more Chinese.By 2020, if the Party’s plan holds, every footstep, keystroke, like, dislike,…


social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or traveling abroad.

China’s social rating system, which was announced by the ruling Communist Party in 2014, will soon be a fact of life for many more Chinese.

By 2020, if the Party’s plan holds, every footstep, keystroke, like, dislike, social media contact, and posting tracked by the state will affect one’s social rating.

Personal “creditworthiness” or “trustworthiness” points will be used to reward and punish individuals and companies by granting or denying them access to public services like health care, travel, and employment, according to a plan released last year by the municipal government of Beijing. High-scoring individuals will find themselves in a “green channel,” where they can more easily access social opportunities, while those who take actions that are disapproved of by the state will be “unable to move a step.”

Big Brother is an emerging reality in China. Yet in the West, at least, the threat of government surveillance systems being integrated with the existing corporate surveillance capacities of big-data companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon into one gigantic all-seeing eye appears to trouble very few people—even as countries like Venezuela have been quick to copy the Chinese model.

Still, it can’t happen here, right? We are iPhone owners and Amazon Prime members, not vassals of a one-party state. We are canny consumers who know that Facebook is tracking our interactions and Google is selling us stuff.

Yet it seems to me there is little reason to imagine that the people who run large technology companies have any vested interest in allowing pre-digital folkways to interfere with their 21st-century engineering and business models, any more than 19th-century robber barons showed any particular regard for laws or people that got in the way of their railroads and steel trusts.

Nor is there much reason to imagine that the technologists who run our giant consumer-data monopolies have any better idea of the future they’re building than the rest of us do.

Facebook, Google, and other big-data monopolists already hoover up behavioral markers and cues on a scale and with a frequency that few of us understand. They then analyze, package, and sell that data to their partners.

A glimpse into the inner workings of the global trade in personal data was provided in early December in a 250-page report released by a British parliamentary committee that included hundreds of emails between high-level Facebook executives. Among other things, it showed how the company engineered sneaky ways to obtain continually updated SMS and call data from Android phones. In response, Facebook claimed that users must “opt-in” for the company to gain access to their texts and calls.

The machines and systems that the techno-monopolists have built are changing us faster than they or we understand. The scale of this change is so vast and systemic that we simple humans can’t do the math—perhaps in part because of the way that incessant smartphone use has affected our ability to pay attention to anything longer than 140 or 280 characters.

As the idea of a “right to privacy,” for example, starts to seem hopelessly old-fashioned and impractical in the face of ever-more-invasive data systems—whose eyes and ears, i.e., our smartphones, follow us everywhere—so has our belief that other individual rights, like freedom of speech, are somehow sacred.

Being wired together with billions of other humans in vast networks mediated by thinking machines is not an experience that humans have enjoyed before. The best guides we have to this emerging reality may be failed 20th-century totalitarian experiments and science fiction. More on that a little later.

The speed at which individual-rights-and-privacy-based social arrangements collapse is likely to depend on how fast Big Tech and the American national security apparatus consummate a relationship that has been growing ever closer for the past decade. While US surveillance agencies do not have regular real-time access to the gigantic amounts of data collected by the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon—as far as we know, anyway—there is both anecdotal and hard evidence to suggest that the once-distant planets of consumer Big Tech and American surveillance agencies are fast merging into a single corporate-bureaucratic life-world, whose potential for tracking, sorting, gas-lighting, manipulating, and censoring citizens may result in a softer version of China’s Big Brother.

These troubling trends are accelerating in part because Big Tech is increasingly beholden to Washington, which has little incentive to kill the golden goose that is filling its tax and political coffers. One of the leading corporate spenders on lobbying services in Washington, DC, in 2017 was Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spent more than $18 million. Lobbying Congress and government helps tech companies like Google win large government contracts. Perhaps more importantly, it serves as a shield against attempts to regulate their wildly lucrative businesses.

If anything, measuring the flood of tech dollars pouring into Washington, DC, law firms, lobbying outfits, and think tanks radically understates Big Tech’s influence inside the Beltway. By buyingThe Washington Post, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos took direct control of Washington’s hometown newspaper. In locating one of Amazon’s two new headquarters in nearby Northern Virginia, Bezos made the company a major employer in the area—with 25,000 jobs to offer.

Who will get those jobs? Last year, Amazon Web Services announced the opening of the new AWS Secret Region, the result of a 10-year, $600 million contract the company won from the CIA in 2014. This made Amazon the sole provider of cloud services across “the full range of data classifications, including Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret, and Top Secret,” according to an Amazon corporate press release.

Once the CIA’s Amazon-administered self-contained servers were up and running, the NSA was quick to follow suit, announcing its own integrated big-data project. Last year the agency moved most of its data into a new classified computing environment known as the Intelligence Community GovCloud, an integrated “big data fusion environment,” as the news site NextGov described it, that allows government analysts to “connect the dots” across all available data sources, whether classified or not.

The creation of IC GovCloud should send a chill up the spine of anyone who understands how powerful these systems can be and how inherently resistant they are to traditional forms of oversight, whose own track record can be charitably described as poor.

Amazon’s IC GovCloud was quickly countered by Microsoft’s secure version of its Azure Government cloud service, tailored for the use of 17 US intelligence agencies. Amazon and Microsoft are both expected to be major bidders for the Pentagon’s secure cloud system, the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative—JEDI—a winner-take-all contract that will likely be worth at least $10 billion.

With so many pots of gold waiting at the end of the Washington, DC, rainbow, it seems like a small matter for tech companies to turn over our personal data—which legally speaking, is actually their data—to the spy agencies that guarantee their profits. This is the threat that is now emerging in plain sight. It is something we should reckon with now, before it’s too late.

In fact, bigtech and the surveillance agencies are already partners. According to a 2016 report by Reuters, Yahoo designed custom software to filter its users’ emails and deliver messages that triggered a set of search terms to the NSA.

The company’s security chief quit in protest when he learned of the program. “Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a statement, which notably did not deny the activity, while perhaps implying that turning over user data to government spy agencies is legal.

While Google has stated that it will not provide private data to government agencies, that policy does not extend beyond America’s borders. At the same time as Yahoo was feeding user data to the NSA, Google was developing a search engine called Dragonfly in collaboration with the Communist Party of China. In a letter obtained byThe Intercept, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told a group of six US senators that Dragonfly could have “broad benefits inside and outside of China” but refused to release other details of the program, which the company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, informed Google staff would be released in early 2019.

According to the documents obtained byThe Intercept, Dragonfly would restrict access to broad categories of information, banning phrases like “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” while linking online searches to a user’s phone number and tracking their physical location and movements, all of which will presumably impact social ratings or worse—much worse, if you happen to be a Uighur or a member of another Muslim minority group inside China, more than 1 million of whom are now confined in re-education camps. China’s digital surveillance net is a key tool by which Chinese authorities identify and track Muslims and others in need of re-educatio

Read More

Be the first to write a comment.

Leave a Reply

Android

Autocomplete Presents the Best Version of You

meme—which works for both Android and iOS—can be found on social media. Not interested in predicting your 2019? Try writing your villain origin story by following your phone's suggestions after typing “Foolish heroes! My true plan is …” Test the strength of your personal brand with “You should follow me on Twitter because …” Or…


meme—which works for both Android and iOS—can be found on social media. Not interested in predicting your 2019? Try writing your villain origin story by following your phone’s suggestions after typing “Foolish heroes! My true plan is …” Test the strength of your personal brand with “You should follow me on Twitter because …” Or launch your political career with “I am running for president with my running mate, @[3rd Twitter Suggestion], because we …”

Gretchen McCulloch is WIRED’s resident linguist. She’s the cocreator ofLingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics, and her bookBecause Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Languageis coming out in July 2019 from Penguin.

In eight years, we’ve gone from Damn You Autocorrect to treating the strip of three predicted words as a sort of wacky but charming oracle. But when we try to practice divination by algorithm, we’re doing something more than killing a few minutes—we’re exploring the limits of what our devices can and cannot do.

Your phone’s keyboard comes with a basic list of words and sequences of words. That’s what powers the basic language features: autocorrect, where a sequence like “rhe” changes to “the” after you type it, and the suggestion strip just above the letters, which contains both completions (if you type “keyb” it might suggest “keyboard”) and next-word predictions (if you type “predictive” it might suggest “text,” “value,” and “analytics”). It’s this predictions feature that we use to generate amusing and slightly nonsensical strings of text—a function that goes beyond its intended purpose of supplying us with a word or two before we go back to tapping them out letter by letter.

The basic reason we get different results is that, as you use your phone, words or sequences of words that you type get added to your personal word list. “For most users, the on-device dictionary ends up containing local place-names, songs they like, and so on,” says Daan van Esch, a technical program manager of Gboard, Google’s keyboard for Android. Or, in the case of the “Aegon Targareon” example, slightly misspelledGame of Thronescharacters.

A

Read More

Continue Reading
Android

Twitter Still Can’t Keep Up With Its Flood of Junk Accounts, Study Finds

state-sponsored campaigns to spread disinformation on social media and sway the 2016 election, Twitter has scrambled to rein in the bots and trolls polluting its platform. But when it comes to the larger problem of automated accounts on Twitter designed to spread spam and scams, inflate follower counts, and game trending topics, a new study…


state-sponsored campaigns to spread disinformation on social media and sway the 2016 election, Twitter has scrambled to rein in the bots and trolls polluting its platform. But when it comes to the larger problem of automated accounts on Twitter designed to spread spam and scams, inflate follower counts, and game trending topics, a new study finds that the company still isn’t keeping up with the deluge of garbage and abuse.

In fact, the paper’s two researchers write that with a machine-learning approach they developed themselves, they can identify abusive accounts in far greater volumes and faster than Twitter does—often flagging the accounts months before Twitter spotted and banned them.

Flooding the Zone

In a 16-month study of 1.5 billion tweets, Zubair Shafiq, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa, and his graduate student Shehroze Farooqi identified more than 167,000 apps using Twitter’s API to automate bot accounts that spread tens of millions of tweets pushing spam, links to malware, and astroturfing campaigns. They write that more than 60 percent of the time, Twitter waited for those apps to send more than 100 tweets before identifying them as abusive; the researchers’ own detection method had flagged the vast majority of the malicious apps after just a handful of tweets. For about 40 percent of the apps the pair checked, Twitter seemed to take more than a month longer than the study’s method to spot an app’s abusive tweeting. That lag time, they estimate, allows abusive apps to cumulatively churn out tens of millions of tweets per month before they’re banned.

“We show that many of these abusive apps used for all sorts of nefarious activity remain undetected by Twitter’s fraud-detection algorithms, sometimes for months, and they do a lot of damage before Twitter eventually figures them out and removes them,” Shafiq says. The study will be presented at the Web Conference in San Francisco this May. “They’ve said they’re now taking this problem seriously and implementing a lot of countermeasures. The takeaway is that these countermeasures didn’t have a substantial impact on these applications that are responsible for millions and millions of abusive tweets.”

“We found a way to detect them even better than Twitter.”

Zubair Shafiq, University of Iowa

The researchers say they’ve been sharing their results with Twitter for more than a year but that the company hasn’t asked for further details of their method or data. When WIRED reached out to Twitter, the company expressed appreciation for the study’s goa

Read More

Continue Reading
Android

5 Questions Congress Should Ask Google’s Sundar Pichai

House Judiciary Committee in a hearing focused on transparency, data collection, and filtering. Until now, Pichai has mostly avoided the public lashings in Washington that his contemporaries, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, have received. In September, Google declined to send either Pichai or Larry Page, CEO of Google’s parent company…


House Judiciary Committee in a hearing focused on transparency, data collection, and filtering. Until now, Pichai has mostly avoided the public lashings in Washington that his contemporaries, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, have received. In September, Google declined to send either Pichai or Larry Page, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, to testify alongside Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senators instead vented their frustrations with Google to an empty chair, artfully reserved with a name plate for Page.

Pichai has since held closed door meetings with leading Republicans, including House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who has repeatedly accused Google of skewing its search results in favor of Democrats and their causes. Both McCarthy and Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte have signaled that these charges will be central to the committee’s questioning.

“Online technology is now an integral part of most Americans’ modern lifestyle,” Goodlatte said in a statement announcing the hearing. “However, the technology behind online services like social media and Internet search engines can also be used to suppress particular viewpoints and manipulate public opinion.”

In his prepared remarks, released by the committee Monday night, Pichai defended Google against such attacks. “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests,” he wrote. “We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions—and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”

That won’t likely stop conservatives on the committee from crying censorship. As with so many of these hearings, you can be certain there will be plenty of partisan grandstanding. But for those lawmakers interested in doing more than pandering to the party, there are plenty of pressing questions regarding the way Google works. Congress should want answers. Here are just a few.

Why did Google change its mind about pursuing business in China?

Google has faced vehement opposition from employees and members of both parties over its plans to explore building a censored search engine for China, which was first reported by The Intercept this summer. After all, the company loudly shut down its Chinese search offerings in 2010 over concerns about censorship. Now the question is: What changed?

So far, Google executives have been tight-lipped about the program, called Dragonfly. At the Senate hearing where Google was a no-show in September, senators condemned Google’s renewed interest in China and suggested it was one reason top executives declined their invitation. During a second hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee later that month, lawmakers repeatedly pressed the company’s chief privacy officer, Keith En

Read More

Continue Reading
Android, Antivirus, Apple, Chromebook, Enterprise, Internet Security, Microsoft, Mobile, OS X, Windows

Is Buying Antivirus Software Necessary?

Let’s address the elephant in the room – malware and viruses do exist! Devices are not immune so we have…

Let’s address the elephant in the room – malware and viruses do exist! Devices are not immune so we have to ask “Is Buying Antivirus Software Necessary?”! It is worth noting that if your phone, tablet or computer is invulnerable to internet threats today, it isn’t a guarantee it will stay so forever.

Having said that, let’s discuss why viruses are immensely prevalent on some platforms while on others they are almost non-existent.

First and foremost, we need to understand that cybercrime is a lucrative business. Hackers are always in search of ways to sneak in into users’ systems and capitalize on sensitive information.

While most vulnerabilities till now have been centered around the Windows OS, other system software like that of Apple’s isn’t as protected either as it once used to be.

It’s not that there are issues with Apple’s inbuilt security system, but rather, cyber culprits have found new ways of slipping through advanced defense systems. The reason why they have started out so late is that they were pretty content targeting the much easier and larger number of Windows and Android users till now.

Though Apple’s security is pretty impressive, it isn’t completely immune. For cybercriminals exploiting the system, it is just a matter of time.

As of now, Apple doesn’t really have antivirus software for the iOS and the same goes for Google’s Chrome OS, one of the most secure systems to date.

The few apps that claim to protect devices running on these operating systems are probably Security Software. So, for the time being, we will focus our attention on Windows, OS X, and Android systems.

 

Windows PCs and Laptops

 

Before progressing any further, let’s answer the simpler stuff first – Is buying antivirus software necessary for windows 7 or older?

The answer is simple and straightforward – YES, IT IS!

Now back to what’s more popular: What about Windows 8 and Windows 10?

While Windows 8 and above have had some significant improvements in their security system, especially after the introduction of Windows 10 with which Windows Defender Antivirus (a step-up to the Microsoft Security Essentials) comes included, the everlasting question whether one needs an additional antivirus software or not still remains unanswered.

Before passing any judgment, it must be noted that Windows Defender switches off gracefully once it detects a third-party program to avoid any interference. Hence, you once an antivirus software is installed and running the Windows Defender isn’t going to work any longer. Unless you are confident with your antivirus software, it is best letting Microsoft’s default defender do the job.

While Windows Defender if good, it certainly isn’t the best! According to AV-TEST, Microsoft’s inbuilt security program score a 4.5 out of 6. Of course, it isn’t bad but not as capable as Avira’s or Avast’s antivirus software that topped the list in December 2017.

 

Mac OS X Desktop Computers and Laptops

 

For a long time, Mac OS X was incredibly safe. Apple’s intelligently designed sandbox OS made it extremely difficult for criminals to hack Apple devices.

As a matter of fact, if a few years ago a Mac user would install an antivirus software, the only purpose it would solve was preventing it from passing to other devices on the same network. However, Macs have been cracked and have lately been more vulnerable to threats like never before.

For now, home users are pretty safe from being affected by a malware or a virus. Even though not many Mac users have been affected by a virus, it wouldn’t be right to forget that the risks are there.

To be on the safer side, it wouldn’t be a bad idea investing in an antivirus. Just like for the Windows, antivirus software from Kaspersky, Symantec and Avast do an impressive job of protecting Apple devices.

 

Android Phones and Tablets

 

It wouldn’t be safe to say that Android viruses do not exist at all. However, as long as one refrains from downloading apps from external sources, it is almost impossible your device to be infected by a virus or malware.

While, by default, Google doesn’t allow its Android users to installs apps from third-party source, this can be easily modified through a few steps in the settings. If you regularly install apps from unknown sources or are one of those courageous users who fiddle with their devices by gaining root access, having an antivirus installed wouldn’t be a bad idea.

It must be noted, that the Android threats known till now aren’t as malicious as the ones affecting Windows PCs and Laptops. This is mainly because it isn’t as easy to exploit an Android device and there isn’t much reason to do so as most of the sensitive information that hackers are in the hunt for is one computer.

As of now, there hasn’t been an Android malware that has caused booting issues for a device. Even if one feels his Android phone or tablet has been affected by a virus, all he has to do is back up his data and run a factory reset.

While having an antivirus might seem something optional, one might not regret having a security software instead installed on his Android.

What is important to keep in mind is that Android runs on devices that have a tendency to get stolen. Losing a phone or a tablet is quite daunting indeed. But giving away sensitive information is even worse. And, that is where security software plays a crucial role.

 

Is Buying Antivirus Software Necessary or will a free version suffice?

 

While free antivirus software today, like the Sophos Antivirus, protect devices from threats to a good degree, they are obviously nowhere near to what the paid ones are capable of doing.

Whether or not to pay for an antivirus or whether even having one is required is a highly personal opinion and there are certain things that are to be considered while making such a decision. If of course, you have important data on your device, something you cannot afford lose an inexpensive antivirus is worth adding to the expense.

For some suggestions on which antivirus to pick, check our article – Top 5 Antivirus programs for 2018

Continue Reading