Category Archives: Media

Headline of the day II: Big Apple ‘blow’-hards

From the London Daily Mail:


Headline of the day: Another timely reminder

What do Mark Zuckerberg and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have in common. . .other than spying on you, that is?

Both of them tape over their laptop webcams.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

It’s not paranoia: Hackers can use your webcam to spy on you

  • They might be monitoring your kids, too, through their laptops
  • Some of the most savvy about the internet block their webcams with tape
  • Data security experts say the threat is real, prevalent and worth action

An Obama administration blow for freedom

Or maybe not [snicker]. . .

During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton encouraged the use of social media as a tool for overthrowing governments deemed inimical to American interests.

The State Department distributed software and security tools for to help in efforts to overthrow governments in Africa, the Mideast, and, we presume, Latin America.

All this was done in the name of “promoting freedom.”

But then how do you explain this, via the Guardian:

US border control could start asking for your social media accounts

US Customs and Border Protection proposal would see Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts requested on landing and visa forms

Quote of the day II: Google, the imperial censor

From Robert Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California, writing in U.S. News & World Report:

Google, Inc., isn’t just the world’s biggest purveyor of information; it is also the world’s biggest censor.

The company maintains at least nine different blacklists that impact our lives, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency. Google is not the only company suppressing content on the internet. Reddit has frequently been accused of banning postings on specific topics, and a recent report suggests that Facebook has been deleting conservative news stories from its newsfeed, a practice that might have a significant effect on public opinion – even on voting. Google, though, is currently the biggest bully on the block.

When Google’s employees or algorithms decide to block our access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, opinions and votes can shift, reputations can be ruined and businesses can crash and burn. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed. Eventually, authorities will almost certainly have to step in, just as they did when credit bureaus were regulated in 1970. The alternative would be to allow a large corporation to wield an especially destructive kind of power that should be exercised with great restraint and should belong only to the public: the power to shame or exclude.

If Google were just another mom-and-pop shop with a sign saying “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” that would be one thing. But as the golden gateway to all knowledge, Google has rapidly become an essential in people’s lives – nearly as essential as air or water. We don’t let public utilities make arbitrary and secretive decisions about denying people services; we shouldn’t let Google do so either.

Larry Wilmore nails the Oakland Police crisis

It’s a story about underage prostitutes, political instability, suicide, and digital idiocy, as the city next door to Casa esnl cycles through top cops faster than. . .well, add your own analogy here.

From Comedy Central:

The Nightly Show – Police Crisis in Oakland, CA

Program notes:

Scandal rocks the Oakland, CA, police department after revelations involving racist text messages and underage prostitution come to light.

Panoptic corporate imperialism, Googled and Liked

From Dutch public television’s VPRO Backlight comes a remarkable documentary posing a fascinating question: Is the absence of digital connectivity becoming the newest luxury good, a costly product for consumption by the world’s elite?

Consider the case of Silicon Valley, where elites send their children to low-tech Montessori and Waldorf schools where they are disconnected from the web and the incessant call to the iPhone is precluded.

Consider even the case of Mark Zuckerberg, a billionaire thanks to the incessant pull of the digital that has fueled the rice of his Facebook empire.

From BBC News:

A photograph of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shows tape has been used to cover his MacBook Pro’s webcam and mic.

Facebook has not responded to requests for comment about the picture, shared to celebrate Instagram reaching its 500 million monthly user milestone.

FBI director James Comey has previously said he also covers his laptop’s webcam to prevent hackers spying on him.

And digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it regularly sold its webcam “stickers”.

Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden allege US and UK spy agencies intercepted webcam images from millions of Yahoo users around the world between 2008 and 2010.

And a section of the image in question with the tape clearly visible as a square covering the round camera aperture:


And it’s not just digital cognoscenti like Zuckerberg who display obvious concerns about the intrusion of the digital into daily life.

One of those interviewed by VPRO is Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously], the founder of Iceland’s Pirate Party, now leading in the polls, and the improbable yet distinctly possible pick as the country’s prime minister.

An early adapter, Jónsdóttir played a role in one of Wikileak’s most explosive releases, video of the American helicopter machine-gunning of two Reuters journalists in Iraq in 2010. The video, likely leaked by Chelsea Manning, embarrassed the U.S. government and made Jónsdóttir the target of efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors.

Our digital connectivity, she notes, is all about turning us into commodities by exploiting our deepest secrets and relationships as tools for our own exploitation.

And like Zuckberg, Jónsdóttir keeps her laptop lens covered. And she warns that a’ those “smart” connected devices in your home, especially those responding to voice commands, make every aspect of private lived vulnerable to incessant snooping, catching every cry of ecstasy and despair, and with no legislation anywhere restricting corporate use of your innermost desires to seduce your wealth away.

Evgeny Morozov, a scholar and prolific writer who focuses in the social and political implications of the digital world, notes that the drive for global digital connectivity is driven by a fusion of the imperial interests of American corporations and the Washington establishment, with the implicit demand that those corporations are free from legal liability for their actions.

Especially chilling is a brief excerpt from a speech in India by Mark Zuckerberg in furtherance of his ambition to unite that nation in a digital Webb entirely controlled by his company, and effort he never accomplished until popular opposition forced a pullback.

Especially fascinating is way folks of our own ancestry are adapting to the wireless world. Our last name is Pennsylvania Dutch, folks of the Amish and Mennonite persuasion. The documentary reveals that even the Old Order Amish, the folks who still live in gaslit houses and travel by horse and buggy, now have cell phones and computers [though the phones have no internet capability and online computer access is tightly restricted, and the built-to-order hardware comes with no video capability.

There’s much more. . .

From VPRO Backlight:

Offline is the new luxury [VPRO backlight]

Program notes:

To be online all the time and everywhere. It sounds great, but it has its drawbacks. As digital networks are closing in, there are fewer places to be really on your own. Being offline is becoming a luxury. Where can you be offline?

We are connected to the internet even in our bedrooms. It’s the ambition of companies like Google and Facebook to connect the entire world, so that we can be online all the time and everywhere. This month, Google will send balloons up into the skies over Sri Lanka to provide the island state with free Wi-Fi. On the ground, more and more devices communicate through the so-called Internet-of-Things. We are going to be ‘glass citizens’ in a transparent house, connected for life to a wireless intravenous drip and traced anywhere via our smartphones. What does it mean, this shift to 100 percent connectibility of the entire planet?

How to create mini-NSAs to spy on social media

The NSA, the National Security Agency, is America’s super-agency for monitoring global communications. While it’s only nominally no to spy on US citizens, the policy is more honored in the breach than in the observance.

But, still, local law enforcement agencies can’t access the massive cache of our digitally expressed thoughts and feelings, and. my. how they’d like to.

So what to do?

Well, why not start with create a program to monitor social media for all the things cops want to know?

From the University of North Carolina, Charlotte:

Yong Ge, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing and Informatics’ Department of Computer Science.  Through funding from the National Institute of Health, Ge has developed a tool that leverages social media data to help analyze use patterns of illegal drugs by young adults across the country.

“Up until now the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts a national survey once a year in which thousands of people are randomly selected to supply information,” says Ge.  “Essentially it tries to determine what types of illegal drugs people are using. Not only was it very costly but it generated hundreds of pages of information, some of which might not even be accurate based on the responses of those being surveyed.”

Ge says by doing the survey only once a year it makes it nearly impossible to capture the dynamics of illegal drug usage on an ongoing basis. He says through the use of social media analysis that has all changed.  Ge says they can now capture and analyze data on an ongoing basis, track trends, etc., which gives them a much more powerful tool to figure out what is actually going on out there.

Ge says another challenge is creating a database for all of the different names being used to describe drugs.

“People use many different street names to describe illegal drugs,” says Ge.  “Therefore we need to capture that data in order to get a good sampling of what people are using. It is very rare that folks will use the real names of the illegal drug.”

Ge says by tracking illegal drug use via social media analysis they are able to see where certain illegal drugs are being used, sort patterns of usage of drugs, detect new ways of using drugs, etc.  He says as they acquire this real time information they will be able to detect and report immediately what is trending and where.

Ge says eventually they hope to be able to supply this information to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and law enforcement authorities.