The Military

Massive US Military Social Media Spying Archive Left Wide Open In AWS S3 Buckets (theregister.co.uk) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Three misconfigured AWS S3 buckets have been discovered wide open on the public internet containing "dozens of terabytes" of social media posts and similar pages -- all scraped from around the world by the U.S. military to identify and profile persons of interest. The archives were found by veteran security breach hunter UpGuard's Chris Vickery during a routine scan of open Amazon-hosted data silos, and these ones weren't exactly hidden. The buckets were named centcom-backup, centcom-archive, and pacom-archive. CENTCOM is the common abbreviation for the U.S. Central Command, which controls army operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. PACOM is the name for U.S. Pacific Command, covering the rest of southern Asia, China and Australasia.

"For the research I downloaded 400GB of samples but there were many terabytes of data up there," he said. "It's mainly compressed text files that can expand out by a factor of ten so there's dozens and dozens of terabytes out there and that's a conservative estimate." Just one of the buckets contained 1.8 billion social media posts automatically fetched over the past eight years up to today. It mainly contains postings made in central Asia, however Vickery noted that some of the material is taken from comments made by American citizens. The databases also reveal some interesting clues as to what this information is being used for. Documents make reference to the fact that the archive was collected as part of the U.S. government's Outpost program, which is a social media monitoring and influencing campaign designed to target overseas youths and steer them away from terrorism.

Social Networks

Report Claims That 18 Nation's Elections Were Impacted By Social Engineering Last Year (bbc.com) 216

sqorbit writes: Independent watchdog group Freedom House released a report that claims that 18 nation's elections were "hacked." Of the 65 countries that Freedom House monitors, 30 appear to be using social media in order to affect elections by attempting to control online discussions. The report covers fake news posts, paid online opinion writers and trolling tactics. Other items in the report speak to online censorship and VPN blocking that blocks information within countries to interfere with elections. The report says net freedom could be aided by: large-scale programs that showed people how to spot fake news; putting tight controls on political adverts; and making social media giants do more to remove bots and tune algorithms to be more objective.
Twitter

Jack Dorsey Responds To Serial Killer Who Found His Victims Through Suicidal Twitter Posts (nhk.or.jp) 70

AmiMoJo shares a report from NHK WORLD: Twitter's CEO is reacting to a grisly case in Japan where a suspected serial killer allegedly found his victims through their suicidal posts on the social media platform. In an interview with NHK, Jack Dorsey said it is unrealistic and impossible to remove suicidal tweets. But he said he hoped Twitter could become a tool for prevention. Last month, the dismembered bodies of 9 people were found in 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi's apartment near Tokyo. Police say he admitted to the killings. They believe he preyed on people who posted about wanting to kill themselves on Twitter. Recently, Twitter updated its rules regarding posts about self-harm: "You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm. When we receive reports that a person is threatening suicide or self-harm, we may take a number of steps to assist them, such as reaching out to that person and providing resources such as contact information for our mental health partners."
Privacy

Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts (apnews.com) 154

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed. The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative." That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting." Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives" for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.
Japan

Apology After Japanese Train Departs 20 Seconds Early (bbc.com) 213

Several readers share a BBC report: A rail company in Japan has apologised after one of its trains departed 20 seconds early. Management on the Tsukuba Express line between Tokyo and the city of Tsukuba say they "sincerely apologise for the inconvenience" caused. In a statement, the company said the train had been scheduled to leave at 9:44:40 local time but left at 9:44:20. Many social media users reacted to the company's apology with surprise. "Tokyo train company's apology for 20-second-early departure is one of the best things about Japan," a user wrote. The mistake happened because staff had not checked the timetable, the company statement said.
Businesses

37% of Netflix Subscribers Say They Binge-Watch While at Work (netflix.com) 152

On-demand video streaming service Netflix has found that more people than ever are watching video outside their homes. About 67% of people now watch movies and TV shows in public, according to an online survey it commissioned of 37,000 adults around the world. The survey also found that about 37% of Netflix's US subscribers binge-watch shows and movies while at work.
Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.
Twitter

Twitter Bans, Removes Verified Status of White Supremacists (thedailybeast.com) 692

After updating the rules of its verification program on Wednesday, Twitter has begun banning and removing verified check marks from white supremacist accounts. For example, white supremacists Richard Spencer and Charlottesville "Unite The Right" protest creator Jason Kessler had their verified statuses revoked today. The Daily Beast reports: The verified check mark was meant to denote "that an account of public interest is authentic," the company said in a series of tweets on Wednesday, but that "verification has long been perceived as an endorsement." "This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse," a company spokesperson tweeted. Users can now lose their blue checkmarks for "inciting or engaging in harassment of others," "promoting hate and/or violence against, or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease," supporting people who promote those ideas, and a slew of other reasons.
Medicine

What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like? (blogspot.com) 195

Benjamin Breen, an assistant professor of history at UC Santa Cruz, looks at art history to figure out what people cooked in the 1600s, and wonders whether it is possible to ascertain the taste of food. From a blog post: What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like? This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velazquez's fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can't know what my neighbor's taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change. By comparison, the taste of food doesn't seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don't change the course of history. But taste does change history. Fascinating read.
Social Networks

Thirty Countries Use 'Armies of Opinion Shapers' To Manipulate Democracy (theguardian.com) 181

The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows. From a report on The Guardian: Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House. "Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate," the US government-funded charity said. "Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russia's disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power."
News

Not Every Article Needs a Picture (theoutline.com) 133

An anonymous reader shares an article: Pictures and text often pair nicely together. You have an article about a thing, and the picture illustrates that thing, which in many cases helps you understand the thing better. But on the web, this logic no longer holds, because at some point it was decided that all texts demand a picture. It may be of a tangentially related celeb. It may be a stock photo of a person making a face. It may be a Sony logo, which is just the word SONY. I have been thinking about this for a long time and I think it is stupid. I understand that images -- clicks is industry gospel, but it seems like many publishers have forgotten their sense of pride. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's hard for me to imagine there'll be much value in the text of an article illustrated by a generic stock image. As with so many problems, social media seems to deserve much of the blame for this. Until the mid-to-late '00s, a publication's homepage played a dominant role in driving people to individual articles. Homepages mostly mimicked the front pages of newspapers, where major stories -- things that warranted investment in original art -- had images. Other stories just got a headline. Over time, the endless space of the internet lowered the standard for which articles needed art, but still, not everything got an image. [...] Even the unflinching belief that people won't read articles if there aren't pictures doesn't hold up to logic. Sure, interesting pictures can attract readers, but most of these images are not interesting. And even if it were slightly better for business, is that really a compromise worth making?
Businesses

Munich Council: To Hell With Linux, We're Going Full Windows in 2020 (theregister.co.uk) 544

The German city of Munich, which received much popularity back in the day when it first ditched Microsoft's services in favor of open-source software, has now agreed to stop using Linux and switch back to Windows. If the decision is ratified by the full council in two weeks, Windows 10 will start rolling out across the city in 2020. From a report: A coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives on the committee voted for the Windows migration last week, Social Democrat councillor Anne Hubner told The Register. Munich rose to fame in the open-source world for deciding to use Linux and LibreOffice to make the city independent from the claws of Microsoft. But the plan was never fully realised -- mail servers, for instance, eventually wound up migrating to Microsoft Exchange -- and in February the city council formally voted to end Linux migration and go back to Microsoft. Hubner said the city has struggled with LiMux adoption. "Users were unhappy and software essential for the public sector is mostly only available for Windows," she said. She estimated about half of the 800 or so total programs needed don't run on Linux and "many others need a lot of effort and workarounds." Hubner added, "in the past 15 years, much of our efforts were put into becoming independent from Microsoft," including spending "a lot of money looking for workarounds" but "those efforts eventually failed." A full council vote on Windows 10 2020 migration is set for November 23, Hubner said. However, the Social Democrats and Conservatives have a majority in the council, and the outcome is expected to be the same as in committee.
Iphone

Some iPhone X Displays Plagued By Mysterious 'Green Line of Death' (thenextweb.com) 76

Some iPhone X owners are reporting a random green line appearing on their displays. According to The Next Web, "the defect has already started to take on the endearing 'Green Line of Death' moniker." From the report: Several users across Apple forums and social media have reported the error -- I've counted over a dozen accounts, and MacRumors mentions it's read "at least 25" such reports. Oddly, the issue doesn't appear to affect users immediately, only showing up after some time with regular usage. In some cases it alternates with a purple line, for variety. It generally appears towards the right or left sides of the display, and sometimes it simply disappears altogether. Weird. Either way, it appears to be a hardware defect affecting a small number of users, and Apple appears to be replacing affected units. Mac Rumors first reported the issue.
Facebook

This Time, Facebook Is Sharing Its Employees' Data (fastcompany.com) 45

tedlistens writes from a report via Fast Company: "Facebook routinely shares the sensitive income and employment data of its U.S.-based employees with the Work Number database, owned by Equifax Workforce Solutions," reports Fast Company. "Every week, Facebook provides an electronic data feed of its employees' hourly work and wage information to Equifax Workforce Solutions, formerly known as TALX, a St. Louis-based unit of Equifax, Inc. The Work Number database is managed separately from the Equifax credit bureau database that suffered a breach exposing the data of more than 143 million Americans, but it contains another cache of extensive personal information about Facebook's employees, including their date of birth, social security number, job title, salary, pay raises or decreases, tenure, number of hours worked per week, wages by pay period, healthcare insurance coverage, dental care insurance coverage, and unemployment claim records."

Surprisingly, Facebook is among friends. Every payroll period, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle provide an electronic feed of their employees' hourly work and wage information to Equifax. So do Wal-Mart, Twitter, AT&T, Harvard Law School, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Even Edward Snowden's former employer, the sometimes secretive N.S.A. contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, sends salary and other personal data about its employees to the Equifax Work Number database. It now contains over 296 million employment records for employees at all wage levels, from CEOs to interns. The database helps streamline various processes for employers and even federal government agencies, says Equifax. But databases like the Work Number also come with considerable risks. As consumer journalist Bob Sullivan puts it, Equifax, "with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans' personal information ever created." On October 8, a month after Equifax announced its giant data breach, security expert Brian Krebs uncovered a gaping hole in the separate Work Number online consumer application portal, which allowed anyone to view a person's salary and employment history "using little more than someone's Social Security number and date of birth -- both data elements that were stolen in the recent breach at Equifax."

Encryption

Following Equifax Breach, CEO Doesn't Know If Data Is Encrypted (techtarget.com) 104

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechTarget: Equifax alerted the public in September 2017 to a massive data breach that exposed the personal and financial information -- including names, birthdays, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers -- of approximately 145 million customers in the United States to hackers. Following the Equifax breach, the former CEO Richard Smith and the current interim CEO Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. were called to testify before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this week for a hearing titled "Protecting Consumers in the Era of Major Data Breaches." During the hearing, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) questioned Smith and Barros about Equifax's use of -- or lack of -- encryption for customer data at rest. Smith confirmed that the company was not encrypting data at the time of the Equifax breach, and Gardner questioned whether or not that was intentional. "Was the fact that [customer] data remained unencrypted at rest the result of an oversight, or was that a decision that was made to manage that data unencrypted at rest?" Gardner asked Smith. Smith pointed out that encryption at rest is just one method of security, but eventually confirmed that a decision was made to leave customer data unencrypted at rest. "So, a decision was made to leave it unencrypted at rest?" Gardner pushed. "Correct," Smith responded.

Gardner moved on to Barros and asked whether he has implemented encryption for data at rest since he took over the position on Sept. 26. Barros began to answer by saying that Equifax has done a "top-down review" of its security, but Gardner interrupted, saying it was a yes or no question. Barros stumbled again and said it was being reviewed as part of the response process and Gardner pushed again. "Yes or no, does the data remain unencrypted at rest?" "I don't know at this stage," Barros responded. "Senator, if I may. It's my understanding that the entire environment [in] which this criminal attack occurred is much different; it's a more modern environment with multiple layers of security that did not exist before. Encryption is only one of those layers of security," Smith said.

Facebook

Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook 'Exploiting' Human Psychology (axios.com) 285

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, spoke to news outlet Axios about the ways social networks have made hundreds of millions of users addicted to their platforms. He said, from the interview: When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, 'I'm not on social media.' And I would say, 'OK. You know, you will be.' And then they would say, 'No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.' And I would say, ... 'We'll get you eventually. I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and ... it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains. The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?' And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments. It's a social-validation feedback loop. He says people like him, and Mark Zuckerberg knew the potential consequences, but they did what they did anyway.
China

China Spreads Propaganda to U.S. on Facebook, a Platform it Bans at Home (nytimes.com) 103

Paul Mozur, reporting for the New York Times: China does not allow its people to gain access to Facebook, a powerful tool for disseminating information and influencing opinion. As if to demonstrate the platform's effectiveness, outside its borders China uses it to spread state-produced propaganda around the world, including the United States (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). So much do China's government and companies value Facebook that the country is Facebook's biggest advertising market in Asia, even as it is the only major country in the region that blocks the social network. A look at the Facebook pages of China Central Television, the leading state-owned broadcast network better known as CCTV, and Xinhua, China's official news agency, reveals hundreds of English-language posts intended for an English-speaking audience. Each quarter China's government, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads, according to a person with knowledge of those deals, who was unauthorized to talk publicly about the company's revenue streams. China's propaganda efforts are in the spotlight with President Trump visiting the country and American lawmakers investigating foreign powers's use of technology to sway voters in the United States.
Wikipedia

Nearly All of Wikipedia Is Written By Just 1 Percent of Its Editors (vice.com) 224

From a report on Motherboard: According to the results of a recent study that looked at the 250 million edits made on Wikipedia during its first ten years, only about 1 percent of Wikipedia's editors have generated 77 percent of the site's content. "Wikipedia is both an organization and a social movement," Sorin Matei, the director of the Purdue University Data Storytelling Network and lead author of the study, told me on the phone. "The assumption is that it's a creation of the crowd, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Wikipedia wouldn't have been possible without a dedicated leadership." At the time of writing, there are roughly 132,000 registered editors who have been active on Wikipedia in the last month (there are also an unknown number of unregistered Wikipedians who contribute to the site). So statistically speaking, only about 1,300 people are creating over three-quarters of the 600 new articles posted to Wikipedia every day.
Earth

New Technology Should Be Neither Feared Nor Trusted (bloomberg.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: How should we think about new and future technologies? The two main stances seem to be extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. A better approach would be careful planning and management. Optimists tend to overlook the fact that the technological successes of the past required a lot of social engineering before their benefits became widely shared. Countries like Maoist China and North Korea implemented perverse economic systems that withheld the bounty of modern technology from most of their citizens. And poor countries didn't really begin to beat poverty until decades after colonialism ended. Pessimists, meanwhile, often assume that new technologies can be stopped in their tracks by act of popular will. They probably can't. Even the most impoverished, repressive regimes of the 20th century adopted new technologies, and often suffered their worst consequences. Scientific research and invention, meanwhile, can be forbidden in one country or another, but probably not at the global level: Someone, somewhere, will study even the scariest ideas.

A better approach, then, is technology management. We should be as realistic as we can about each innovation's potential benefits and dangers. And instead of thinking about how to suppress new technologies, we should think about how to regulate them and channel them toward broad social benefit. Emerging technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence are at our doorstep, and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. But letting them develop haphazardly entails large risks. Instead, government and industry need to be funding proactive efforts to bring them into widespread, well-regulated use. In the end, technology is what we choose to make of it.

Twitter

Twitter Officially Expands Its Character Count To 280 Starting Today (techcrunch.com) 98

Twitter is rolling out an update around the world to allow users to post 280-character tweets. The company first announced the controversial plan to move beyond its traditional 140 characters back in September, noting at the time how a longer character count allowed users to express more of their thoughts without running out of room to tweet. TechCrunch reports: At the time of its original announcement, the company cited data backing up its decision that referenced how the character constraints impacted users differently, depending on their language. Twitter said that those who tweeted in languages like Japanese, Korean and Chinese were able to express around double the amount of information in a single character, compared with users who spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese or French, for example. In today's blog post about the public launch of 280 characters, Twitter aims to assuage people's fears that their timelines will fill with expanded tweets. The company said that during the trial period, people continued to tweet below 140 characters most of the time -- after the novelty of being able to use more characters wore off. Specifically, Twitter found that only 5 percent of tweets were sent out with more than 140 characters and of those, only 2 percent were over 190 characters.

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