Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Digital ads expected to crush everything else this year | Axios

What the world needs now, apparently, is more advertising...
"The big takeaway: For the first time this year, the combined share of Google and Facebook's dominance of digital ads will actually drop, despite record revenues.
  • That's because Amazon will continue to grow, eating at both companies' market share.
  • eMarketer predicts that Amazon's U.S. ads business will grow more than 50% this year, putting Amazon on track to close the gap with Facebook, which is currently the second-biggest digital ad company by spend next to Google."
 Digital ads expected to crush everything else this year | Axios

Google and Facebook have become “antithetical to democracy,” says The Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff | Recode

Check the source for a podcast interview and transcript
"“All of the economic imperatives now that define surveillance capitalism are aimed at, how do we get better and better prediction products?” Zuboff told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “How do we win the most lucrative prediction products, so that not only are we predicting the future, but really increasingly, our prediction products are equal to observation.”

There are just a couple problems: One, when customers are fully informed about how their data is being used, they don’t like it. So, companies like Google and Facebook have decided to “take without asking,” Zuboff said. And whoever has all that data has a tremendous amount of power — so much so that the same people who unwittingly provided more data than they realized to tech companies can then be manipulated toward commercial and political outcomes.

“Right now, surveillance capitalists sit on a huge asymmetry of knowledge,” she said. “They have an asymmetry of knowledge, a concentration of knowledge unlike anything ever seen in human history ... We have an institutional disfiguring of these huge asymmetries of knowledge and power which are antithetical to democracy.”"
Google and Facebook have become “antithetical to democracy,” says The Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff | Recode

Russian Hackers Targeted European Research Groups, Microsoft Says | NYT

See New steps to protect Europe from continued cyber threats | Microsoft EU Policy Blog for more on how Microsoft AccountGuard is helping to protect "the birthplace of democracy"
"A group of hackers associated with Russian intelligence targeted civil society groups across Europe ahead of May elections there, Microsoft said on Tuesday.

The attacks, disclosed by Microsoft in a blog post, demonstrate the continuing spread of a broad online campaign aimed at disrupting real and potential political opponents of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. The company said it had found that hackers targeted more than 100 email accounts at think tanks and nongovernmental organizations that work on issues including election security, nuclear policy and foreign relations.

Microsoft didn’t address what country the attacks came from, but it blamed a group of hackers sometimes called Fancy Bear. Online security companies have identified Fancy Bear as a Russian group, and it is widely believed to be tied to Russian intelligence."
Russian Hackers Targeted European Research Groups, Microsoft Says | NYT

The race to 5G wireless tech is on. A report finds Americans may have an early lead. | Washington Post

Must be about time to start marketing 6G features...
"By 2022, fifth-generation cellular networks will power as many as 9 percent of mobile data connections across North America, Cisco said, compared with 4 percent in Asia. The new projections were unveiled Tuesday as part of Cisco’s annual Visual Networking Index report, which studies industry trends.

The report underscores the substantial work that countries like China face as they seek to out-develop Western nations. And it reflects U.S. policies that put the United States in a strong position to lead, said Cisco, which makes networking technology.

Proponents say 5G will offer download speeds faster than what many households receive on their home Internet connections. And, they say, 5G’s reliability will unlock new capabilities such as self-driving cars, remote medicine and a thriving ecosystem of smart appliances that require a constant connection."
The race to 5G wireless tech is on. A report finds Americans may have an early lead. | Washington Post

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Once hailed as unhackable, blockchains are now getting hacked | MIT Technology Review

From an extensive blockchain reality check
"In total, hackers have stolen nearly $2 billion worth of cryptocurrency since the beginning of 2017, mostly from exchanges, and that’s just what has been revealed publicly. These are not just opportunistic lone attackers, either. Sophisticated cybercrime organizations are now doing it too: analytics firm Chainalysis recently said that just two groups, both of which are apparently still active, may have stolen a combined $1 billion from exchanges.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Blockchains are particularly attractive to thieves because fraudulent transactions can’t be reversed as they often can be in the traditional financial system. Besides that, we’ve long known that just as blockchains have unique security features, they have unique vulnerabilities. Marketing slogans and headlines that called the technology “unhackable” were dead wrong."
Once hailed as unhackable, blockchains are now getting hacked | MIT Technology Review

“Rebuilding a local news ecosystem”: Knight pledges $300 million to local news, free speech, and media literacy organizations | NiemanLab

Good news...
"The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will provide a whopping $300 million over five years to organizations including the American Journalism Project, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and and ProPublica, the foundation announced Tuesday.
The funding announcement follows the Knight Commission’s release earlier this month of a report outlining its recommendations for 21st-century journalism.
“We’re not funding one-offs,” Alberto Ibarg├╝en, Knight Foundation president, said in a statement. “We’re rebuilding a local news ecosystem, reliable and sustainable, and we’re doing it in a way that anyone who cares can participate.” The foundation called on “other funders and individuals across sectors” to participate as well. (Disclosure: Nieman Lab has received Knight funding in the past.)"
“Rebuilding a local news ecosystem”: Knight pledges $300 million to local news, free speech, and media literacy organizations | NiemanLab

China Abandons Cybersecurity Truce With U.S., Report Says | Bloomberg

Later in the article: "Crowdstrike said that Iran focused much of its cyber activity on Middle Eastern and North African countries while Russia engaged in intelligence collection and information operations worldwide. North Korea deployed hackers for financial gain and intelligence collection, while China targeted sectors including technology, manufacturing and hospitality, Meyers said."
"China largely abandoned a hacking truce negotiated by Barack Obama as President Donald Trump embarked on a trade war with Beijing last year, according to the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike Inc.

A slowdown in Chinese hacking following the cybersecurity agreement Obama’s administration secured in 2015 appears to have been reversed, the firm said in a report released Tuesday that reviewed cyber activity by U.S. adversaries in 2018.

“By 2017 they started coming back and throughout 2018 they were back in full force,” said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at Crowdstrike. “They have been very active and we expect to see that continue.”"
China Abandons Cybersecurity Truce With U.S., Report Says | Bloomberg

YouTube Unleashed a Conspiracy Theory Boom. Can It Be Contained? | NYT

Tbd how Putin and others will find a way to lobby against potential regulation in this context... On a related note, see Google details how it fights ‘fake news’ in Search, News, YouTube, and ads | 9to5Google and Study blames YouTube for rise in number of Flat Earthers | Guardian
"But there is a thornier problem here. Many young people have absorbed a YouTube-centric worldview, including rejecting mainstream information sources in favor of platform-native creators bearing “secret histories” and faux-authoritative explanations.

When those creators propagate hoaxes and conspiracy theories as part of a financially motivated growth strategy, it seeps in with some percentage of their audience. And sometimes — in ways no algorithm could predict — it leads viewers to a much darker place.

It’s possible that YouTube can still beat back the flood of conspiracy theories coursing through its servers. But doing it will require acknowledging how deep these problems run and realizing that any successful effort may look less like a simple algorithm tweak, and more like deprogramming a generation."
YouTube Unleashed a Conspiracy Theory Boom. Can It Be Contained? | NYT

A Real Tube Carrying Dreams of 600-M.P.H. Transit | NYT

Interesting business model...
"“People would get sick looking at trees passing by at 600 miles per hour,” said S├ębastien Gendron, TransPod’s chief executive.

Instead, developers are looking at various exterior simulations that could be projected on large screens throughout the pod. “We could create a depth effect through video projection,” Mr. Gendron said. Even movies could be shown.

Mr. Ahlborn believes that showing advertisements and providing other services to travelers could provide additional income that would hold down fares.

“My vision is that the ticket model is not the best model,” he said. “We can enable a marketplace of services and generate a lot of money.”"
 A Real Tube Carrying Dreams of 600-M.P.H. Transit | NYT

Monday, February 18, 2019

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques | Digital Trends

Actual results may vary... Also see AAAS: Machine learning 'causing science crisis' | BBC
"Dr Genevera Allen, associate professor of statistics, computer science, and electrical and computer engineering Rice University in Houston, Texas has discussed this topic at a press briefing and at a scientific conference, the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She warned that researchers in the field of machine learning have spent so much time developing predictive models that they have not devoted enough attention to checking the accuracy of their models, and that the field must develop systems which can assess the accuracy of their own findings.

“The question is, ‘Can we really trust the discoveries that are currently being made using machine-learning techniques applied to large data sets?'” Allen said in a statement. “The answer in many situations is probably, ‘Not without checking,’ but work is underway on next-generation machine-learning systems that will assess the uncertainty and reproducibility of their predictions.”"
Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques | Digital Trends

Facebook needs regulation as Zuckerberg 'fails' - UK MPs | BBC

Also see A digital gangster destroying democracy: the damning verdict on Facebook | Guardian
"A Commons committee has concluded that the firm's founder Mark Zuckerberg failed to show "leadership or personal responsibility" over fake news.
Untrue stories from foreign powers were risking the UK's democracy, they said.
Facebook welcomed the digital select committee's report and said it would be open to "meaningful regulation".
MPs said that what was needed to deal with the proliferation of disinformation online and the misuse of personal data was a "radical shift in the balance of power between social media platforms and the people"."
Facebook needs regulation as Zuckerberg 'fails' - UK MPs | BBC

Chinese and Iranian Hackers Renew Their Attacks on U.S. Companies | NYT

Also see Australian political parties hit by 'state actor' hack, PM says | BBC
"Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been energized by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China.

Recent Iranian attacks on American banks, businesses and government agencies have been more extensive than previously reported. Dozens of corporations and multiple United States agencies have been hit, according to seven people briefed on the episodes who were not authorized to discuss them publicly."
Chinese and Iranian Hackers Renew Their Attacks on U.S. Companies | NYT

Sunday, February 17, 2019

With fitness trackers in the workplace, bosses can monitor your every step — and possibly more | Washington Post

Final paragraphs:
"Real-time information from wearable devices is crunched together with information about past doctors visits and hospitalizations to get a health snapshot of employees. Sleep monitoring has especially profound implications. Poor sleep can be a key indicator of depression, substance abuse or other mental disturbances. Overweight insomniacs, as measured in this new world, for example, will stand out faster as potentially costly health insurance risks.

Some companies also add information from outside the health system — social predictors of health such as credit scores and whether someone lives alone — to come up with individual risk forecasts.

“The Fitbit or Apple Watch applications . . . may yield clues to things about you that you are not even aware of, or not ready for other people to know,’’ said Electronic Frontier’s Tien. “Individuals and consumers who are buying these devices don’t understand that is a potential consequence.’’"
With fitness trackers in the workplace, bosses can monitor your every step — and possibly more | Washington Post

Friday, February 15, 2019

Warren Buffett's right-hand man Charlie Munger: Amazon is 'an utter phenomenon of nature' | CNBC

Tangentially, see The Oracle of Omaha has given up on Oracle, the company | Quartz
""My attitude toward Amazon is it is an utter phenomenon of nature," Munger told CNBC's Becky Quick Thursday. "There has hardly ever been anything like it in the history of our country ... very talented driven people."

The vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, who is worth $1.7 billion, according to Forbes, says he has been surprised at Amazon's growth.

"I would not have predicted the success that happened and now that it has happened, I wouldn't want to predict that it was going to stop either. I think it may run a long way."

Munger has also called founder and CEO Jeff Bezos "ferociously smart.""
Warren Buffett's right-hand man Charlie Munger: Amazon is 'an utter phenomenon of nature' | CNBC

Is Blockchain Technology Overhyped? | NYT

Excerpts from a review of two recent blockchain books
"For the John Perry Barlows of today, blockchain represents a new opportunity to free people from governments, corporations and other sources of centralized control. (Indeed, a few true believers, made rich during the recent digital currency boom, are spending millions of dollars on potential experimental communities where rights and contracts would be implemented using blockchain technology.) But for the legal scholars Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright, the innovative promise of blockchain, though real, has been exaggerated. As they argue in BLOCKCHAIN AND THE LAW: The Rule of Code (Harvard University, $35), the growth and evolution of this technology “will follow a similar path” to that of the internet itself: from anarchic potential to a more regulated and controlled reality. They also argue that this is desirable — that blockchain visionaries looking to free people from the hegemony of governments and corporations “could wind up surrendering themselves (and others) to the whims of a much more powerful enemy”: namely, the self-governing code of blockchain itself.
[...]
In THE BLOCKCHAIN AND THE NEW ARCHITECTURE OF TRUST (MIT, $27.95), the legal scholar Kevin Werbach stakes out a position similar to that of De Filippi and Wright, arguing that “like the internet the blockchain is mistakenly viewed as the final answer to the problem of intermediation” — the problem of inefficient, unwanted or unreliable go-betweens. The trouble with this view, he notes, is that intermediaries, when trustworthy, play many beneficial roles: pairing buyers with sellers, bundling demand to create economies of scale, correcting imbalances in bargaining power. Because there is no widespread desire to eliminate intermediaries, he predicts that blockchain technology will most often “supplement or complement conventional legal regimes, not replace them,” proving most useful when rigidity and automation are valuable. Blockchain might be used, for example, to mechanize the enforcement of reporting rules for banks, so that government agencies need not actively monitor every relevant bank transaction."
Is Blockchain Technology Overhyped? | NYT

OpenAI's new multitalented AI writes, translates, and slanders | The Verge

Also see New AI fake text generator may be too dangerous to release, say creators | Guardian
"For decades, machines have struggled with the subtleties of human language, and even the recent boom in deep learning powered by big data and improved processors has failed to crack this cognitive challenge. Algorithmic moderators still overlook abusive comments, and the world’s most talkative chatbots can barely keep a conversation alive. But new methods for analyzing text, developed by heavyweights like Google and OpenAI as well as independent researchers, are unlocking previously unheard-of talents.
OpenAI’s new algorithm, named GPT-2, is one of the most exciting examples yet. It excels at a task known as language modeling, which tests a program’s ability to predict the next word in a given sentence. Give it a fake headline, and it’ll write the rest of the article, complete with fake quotations and statistics. Feed it the first line of a short story, and it’ll tell you what happens to your character next. It can even write fan fiction, given the right prompt."
OpenAI's new multitalented AI writes, translates, and slanders | The Verge

JPMorgan Chase Moves to Be First Big U.S. Bank With Its Own Cryptocurrency | NYT

Featuring a "closed blockchain" and other oxymorons...
"The bank’s token is unlikely to shake up the financial system anytime soon. Because it will be run by JPMorgan, it lacks the fundamental qualities that have made cryptocurrencies so radical: the freedom from middlemen and from regulatory oversight.

JPMorgan will control the JPM Coin ledger, and each coin will be backed by a dollar in JPMorgan accounts, giving the coins a stable value. That means JPM Coin will not be subject to the wild price volatility that has drawn speculators to other cryptocurrencies.

The bank is following in the footsteps of several smaller players that have introduced similar digital coins tied to the dollar. A consortium of European banks has been finalizing a similar product, Utility Settlement Coin, that would make it possible to move money between banks more quickly. Several cryptocurrency exchanges already have their own so-called stablecoins."
JPMorgan Chase Moves to Be First Big U.S. Bank With Its Own Cryptocurrency | NYT

The U.S. government and Facebook are negotiating a record, multibillion-dollar fine for the company’s privacy lapses | Washington Post

So perhaps Facebook and/or El Chapo will pay for the wall...
"The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount. Facebook has expressed initial concern with the FTC’s demands, one of the people said. If talks break down, the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight.
[...]
A multi-billion dollar fine would amount to a reckoning for Facebook in the United States after a series of privacy lapses that may have put the personal information of its users at risk. Lawmakers have faulted the company for mishandling that data while failing to crack down on other digital ills, including the rise of online hate speech and the spread of disinformation from Russian operatives and other foreign actors."
The U.S. government and Facebook are negotiating a record, multibillion-dollar fine for the company’s privacy lapses | Washington Post