Motherboard feed for https://motherboard.vice.comenFri, 16 Nov 2018 21:33:34 +0000<![CDATA[Senators Question Wireless Carriers Over YouTube, Netflix Throttling]]>, 16 Nov 2018 21:33:34 +0000 Three Democratic senators are questioning major wireless carriers about recent reports that they routinely throttle video apps, often just to make an extra buck.

Democratic senators Edward Markey, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Wyden this week sent letters to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile that pressured the companies to provide more detail on recent research that found carriers arbitrarily throttle video apps like Netflix or YouTube, often with little concrete justification and even less transparency.

In September, Northeastern researcher Dave Choffnes found that wireless carriers, while insisting that they only throttle these apps to manage network congestion, often throttle video apps in a bid to drive users to more expensive plans. Verizon’s website notes that the company limits video streaming quality on some of its “unlimited” data plans unless users buy a more expensive plan. Choffnes also recently found that Sprint was throttling the performance of Skype without informing consumers of the limitations. Sprint denied this when contacted by Motherboard.

Choffnes told us he hopes that his team’s data can provide accountability and transparency in the wake of the repeal of net neutrality rules last June.

Erecting arbitrary network restrictions simply to make a buck is a practice that net neutrality rules were supposed to prevent, the senators argued in their letters. "All online traffic should be treated equally, and Internet service providers should not discriminate against particular content or applications for competitive advantage purposes or otherwise," the senators wrote.

The senators added that the throttling discovered by Choffnes and his colleagues “would violate the principles of net neutrality and unfairly treat consumers who are unaware that their carriers are selecting which services receive faster or slower treatment.”

Read More: This Map Shows You How Much Money Every Member of Congress Got from Big Telecom

The now-repealed net neutrality rules required that ISPs be transparent with consumers about the kind of broadband connection they’re buying, clearly noting any limitations a connection may have. Those requirements have since been replaced by entirely voluntary transparency requirements that ISPs are free to ignore at their convenience, and without repercussions.

That’s a problem, Choffnes recently told Motherboard, because telecom operators are naturally incentivized to hamstring potential competitors. “When an Internet provider targets a service for throttling, the playing field can tilt in favor of one service over another,” Choffnes told me in an email.

Senators Markey, Blumenthal, and Wyden asked the carriers to clearly detail precisely what kind of throttling they engage in, when these practices started, whether users can opt out of these limitations, and if consumers (and app makers) are adequately informed that certain services may face seemingly-arbitrary restrictions.

Whether anything will come of this inquiry is unclear. The net neutrality repeal order dramatically scaled back the FCC’s authority over ISPs, ceding any remaining oversight to the FTC—an agency that former FCC boss Tom Wheeler has argued lacks the resources and authority to adequately police giant broadband providers and wireless carriers.

And while the recent shakeup in the House could apply some greater oversight to Ajit Pai’s FCC in the form of public hearings, this erosion of consumer protections leaves the government rather toothless when it comes to holding carriers accountable until new laws are passed, consumer advocates have warned.

If the FCC and ISPs lose a looming February court battle over the repeal, it opens the door to the 2015 rules being restored. If they win, a lack of meaningful oversight will give a green light to even worse ISP behavior, unless entirely new rules are crafted by a different FCC or Congress.

Whatever the outcome, the senators’ letter gives wireless carriers until December 6 to provide detailed responses to the inquiry.

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wj3nqzKarl BodeJordan PearsonNewsnet neutralityVerizonAT&TThrottlingNet Neutrality Repealinternet throttlingthrottling netflix
<![CDATA[Jacy Reese Thinks Technology and Ethics Will See the ‘End of Animal Farming’ ]]>, 16 Nov 2018 20:47:35 +0000 Activist and author Jacy Reese thinks the world is on the precipice of a technological shift that could end animal farming forever, changing the way the world eats and dramatically improving the environment. “There are practical reasons that make me optimistic, but I do worry about the next decade or two,” Reese told me over the phone.

Reese is the co-founder of the Sentience Institute—a think tank devoted to expanding humanity’s moral circle—and author of the new book The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System. The book is a survey of a budding movement that believes humans can end animal farming through a combination of new technologies that provide lab-grown meat, more consideration for the animal world, and activism.

According to Reese, lab-grown meat—animal protein raised from cultures in a laboratory instead of from living beings on a farm—is a key technological and social change he sees playing out in the next few years that will help put an end to animal farming.

Reese thinks the lab-grown industry can learn from mistakes made by the genetically modified food industry. Genetically modified foods have helped feed the rapidly expanding human population, but we’re all creeped out by them. No matter how many scientists publish studies about their safety, there’s something about them we don’t trust. Big agricultural companies such as Monsanto don’t do themselves any favors by copyrighting certain strains, running small farms out of business, and being secretive.

“GM foods have gotten a really negative reputation and have failed to be adopted, which is kind of weird in the whole scheme of technology,” Reese said. “We think of everyone wanting innovation and embracing new technologies in the never-ending march of technological progress.”

Read More: Nobody's Gonna Eat Lab-Grown Meat Just Because It's Better for the Planet

For lab-grown meat to succeed, Reese said, its creators need to be transparent with the public about its origins and play up the ethical angle. And, of course, be delicious. “If you’re tackling a moral issue like animal farming and you want to solve it with technology, you might want to avoid the perception that it’s a product that’s been put out for profit,” he explained.

The book isn’t interested in preaching to the converted or detailing the myriad horrors of animal farming. Reese is all about effective altruism—practical and near-term solutions that move his cause forward. “It’s always hard to predict trends, but we seem to be on track,” he said.

He pointed to the increasing number of American vegans and vegetarians, documentaries about the horror of factory arms, and—crucially—the economic inefficiency of factory farming.

“It takes at least ten calories of plant-based food to produce one calorie of animal-based meat,” Reese told me. “With protein, it takes around ten grams of animal protein to produce two grams of animal protein. Animals are just inefficient. Humans always want more output for fewer input.”

Those pragmatic arguments are important for laying the groundwork for one of Reese's long- term goals—”expanding humanity’s moral circle.” This idea, detailed in the book and spearheaded by Sentience Institute, is getting humanity to believe that all sentient beings are worthy of a life free of pain and suffering.

But Reese understands that not everyone walking down the meat aisle at the grocery store will be happy to embrace bacon that came from a test tube, so that’s why marketing and perception are important. He also knows that the changes won’t come overnight, but can only happen with sustained and practical action from believers.

Despite the problems, a feeling of optimism runs through The End of Animal Farming. There’s a sense that, if new technologies are regulated and marketed correctly, humans will radically change the way they eat in the next few generations.

“If I had to speculate, I would say that by 2100 all forms of animal farming will seem outdated and barbaric,” Reese wrote in The End of Animal Farming. “The moral momentum of ending 99 percent of animal farming will lead our descendents to oppose even the final 1 percent.”

The End of Animal Farming gives many reason why this will happen—from the rise of lab-grown meat to the expansion of the moral circle—but Reese wrote that it’s ultimately market forces that will force our hand. The Earth’s population is expected to grow by billions of people in the coming decades. Just as dramatic changes to agricultural yields allowed a population boom in the 20th century, humans will have to reconsider how it gets its protein—or the planet will starve. “The system’s fundamental inefficiency will end animal farming one day, regardless of our concerns for animals, the environment, or human health,” he wrote.

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vbavgmMatthew GaultNatasha Grzincicfuture of foodvegetarianismlab meatjacy reesethe end of animal farminglab grown hamburger
<![CDATA[The EPA Gave Its Website a Pro-Fracking Makeover]]>, 16 Nov 2018 20:30:00 +0000In January this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revamped its webpage on fracking. The page now promotes the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of scientific knowledge and public transparency.

These edits were documented by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a coalition that has tracked changes made to federal environmental websites during the Trump administration. The president has vowed to ease restrictions on fracking as part of his fossil fuel-heavy economic plan.

Once titled “Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing,” the single page is now called “Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Development.” It informs the public of the EPA’s role in fracking, a technique for extracting natural gas by drilling down and injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into the rock.

“‘Hydraulic fracturing,’ easily gives way to the popular and colloquial ‘fracking,’ which is an ugly sounding word—used in place of swears in Battlestar Galactica for a reason,” Gwen Arnold, assistant professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis, told Motherboard in an email. “The oil and gas industry prefers the ‘unconventional’ phrasing because it helps link fracking to conventional oil and gas drilling."

The EPA did not respond to Motherboard’s questions regarding why this page was so heavily changed.

Some of the most significant changes to the page emphasize the economic benefits of fracking while obscuring its known risks, such as air pollution and drinking water contamination—findings the EPA’s own scientists stressed in the months preceding President Trump’s inauguration.

“[This is] one among many instances wherein the administration has deemphasized or questioned the importance or credibility of scientific knowledge and scientists,” Arnold said, noting President Trump’s “scientists on both sides” refrain regarding climate change and other environmental issues.

The EPA removed text about air pollution standards from the page, and links to press and compliance materials. One section’s title was subtly changed from “Addressing air quality impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing activities” to “Addressing air quality impacts.”

In another section, new information was added about industry stakeholders which “represent the engine of the American economy in order to explore significant opportunities for environmental improvement.” The page also now includes letters from oil and gas associations to former EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, urging him to roll back EPA enforcement of certain oil and gas operators.

Some paragraphs were wholesale removed, such as one that said the EPA is working to improve our scientific understanding of fracking, and another that underscored the need to carefully manage natural gas development in tandem with its rapid development.

One section also notably removed a sub-section called “Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Mixtures.” Previously, this page disclosed the use of chemicals used during fracking and communicated issues such as outreach, peer review, and transparency with the public.

“Public health advocates say that understanding the impacts that fracking is having on environmental health begins with actually understanding what chemicals fracking is putting into the environment,” Arnold said. “[Fracking companies] do not want to disclose the chemicals or their concentrations [or] ratios because they say that this is proprietary information and disclosing it would remove [or] reduce their competitive advantage.”

qvqkd3Sarah EmersonJordan PearsonenvironmentFRACKINGFossil FuelsEPApresident trumptransparencyEnvironmental Protection AgencyHydraulic fracturing
<![CDATA[A New Zealand Woman Was Charged for Doxing a Sex Worker Online]]>, 16 Nov 2018 19:39:33 +0000Exposing the personal information of a vulnerable person—a practice known as “doxing”—is a cruel and dangerous act. This is especially true when the victim is someone working in a profession that carries as much stigma and personal risk as sex work. In New Zealand, one person who doxed a sex worker is paying for her actions.

Margaret Herewini-Te Huna was sentenced for one count of "posting a harmful digital communication" in a Wellington, New Zealand district court this week, according to the New Zealand Herald. Herewini-Te Hun posted derogatory and personal attacks against escort Danna Burton online, and outed her as a sex worker.

She will have to complete 150 hours of community work and pay an emotional harm reparation payment of $500.

Herewini-Te Huna posted the attacks—which included Burton’s place of work and where she lives— on a website that exposes infidelities and an online “STD registry,” according to the local outlet Stuff. Herewini-Te Huna did this after finding out that her former partner was seeing Burton. Burton’s family found the posts and ostracized her.

“It doesn’t just address that one situation, it also telegraphs to other people trading sex that your life does matter."

The Herald reported from the courtroom:

Reading from her victim impact statement, Burton cried, took shaky breaths, and had to pause several times as she described how the offending had ruined her relationship with her family. The first she knew of the posts was when her eldest daughter called her on April 22, 2016, having seen the information online. [...] The daughter's last words to her mother were "I'm so worried that they're going to find you one day dead in a gutter."

Being on the internet isn’t a free pass to act like a jerk, Hobbs said to the court, according to the Herald. “It's not a licence for people to forget about civility and other normal means of interaction that are so often forgotten about when tapping on a keyboard,” he said.

Kate D'Adamo, a sex worker activist and harm reductionist at Reframe Health and Justice told me in a phone call that it’s very common for abusers to use shame and stigma against women in general. Sex workers have an added layer of vulnerability, she said. Outing someone as a sex worker can cause them to lose their housing, job, education opportunities or personal relationships, as we saw with Burton’s case.

Read more: Pimps Are Preying on Sex Workers Pushed Off the Web Because of FOSTA-SESTA

In the US and other countries where sex work is criminalized, going to the authorities is often not a viable option—for sex workers, and for women in general. D’Adamo noted that although the criminal legal system isn’t always (or even frequently) the answer to helping someone who has been victimized, not having the institutional option to report abuse to the authorities does a “myriad of things” to one’s mental wellbeing.

“First and foremost, it tells people they don’t matter in society,” she said. “Second, it reminds people they’re criminals in the eyes of the law and nothing else... and it really does remind you that not only does the system not care, but there’s a good chance that things like this will happen again. That, I think, is what often the most terrifying.”

New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003, becoming the first country in the world to do so. But as this case illustrates, even in places where sex work isn’t strictly illegal it, it still carries a heavy stigma. Burton’s case offers a bit of hope, D’Adamo said.

“Even if it’s New Zealand—that there’s a court in the world that’s willing to take this seriously is really meaningful,” D’Adamo said. “It doesn’t just address that one situation, it also telegraphs to other people trading sex that your life does matter. Unfortunately for people who trade sex, that’s often a rare message to get.”

mbygqpSamantha ColeJordan Pearsonsex workSEX WORKERSNEW ZEALANDharassmentdoxing
<![CDATA[Megafloods on Mars Carved Giant Canyons Into the Red Planet]]>, 16 Nov 2018 19:00:00 +0000 Mars is currently a barren world of ice and dirt, but at one time catastrophic “megafloods” of water carved massive canyons across the surface of the red planet.

Some 3.7 billion years ago, when Mars was warmer and wetter, there were likely hundreds of lakes and rivers on its surface that may have supported favorable conditions for life. These bodies of water are long gone, but they carved permanent features into the Martian landscape, called paleolakes and paleochannels, that scientists can study for clues about the watery Mars of the past.

Now, scientists have discovered that some of these ancient lakes burst through their crater basins, causing outburst floods, also known as megafloods, which carved out wide canyons within a few weeks. The new finding, published on Friday in Geology, confirms that these flood features, called outlet canyons, were formed on very short timescales, and were a major geological force in Mars’ first billion years as a planet.

Satellite imagery of the topography of Jezero Crater, with outlet canyon visible on the right. Image: NASA/Tim Goudge

Led by Tim Goudge, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, researchers studied 24 ancient crater paleolakes imaged in high resolution by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The paleolakes all had breaches punched through the side of their basins where water flowed into outlet canyons during Mars’ early days.

These Martian canyon patterns match existing models projecting the effects of sudden megafloods, and they also corresponded to real geological features on Earth. In particular, glacial lake outburst flows, like the Missoula Floods some 13,000 years ago, left behind similar features such as the Channeled Scablands in Washington state.

Where Mars’ lakes were confined in crater basins, Earth’s glacial lakes are contained within icy dams. Megafloods on both planets occur when these structures are breached or overflow, forming similar outlet canyons.

Read More: There’s Enough Ice Water On Mars to Fill Lake Superior

“Given the large size of many paleolake outlet canyons on Mars, we hypothesize that lake overflow flooding was an important process for shaping the early Martian landscape,” the authors said in the study.

For years, scientists have been interested in landing rovers inside these paleolakes, because they are among the most likely locations to find fossils of ancient Martian life. Jezero Crater, a 30-mile-wide impact basin that was among the locations Goudge’s team studied, is on a shortlist of three landing sites that NASA is considering for its Mars 2020 rover.

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d3bpaqBecky FerreiraJordan PearsonMarsnasaCanyonsGlaciersfloodsgeologylakeswater on marsglacial meltcratersmartianMars 2020 roverancient marsmegaflood
<![CDATA[Targeted Advertising Is Ruining the Internet and Breaking the World]]>, 16 Nov 2018 18:54:01 +0000 The Weakest Link is Motherboard's third annual theme week dedicated to the future of hacking and cybersecurity. Follow along.

Listen to Motherboard’s new hacking podcast, CYBER, here.

Dr. Nathalie Maréchal is a senior research fellow at Ranking Digital Rights , where she studies the impact of information and communication technology companies’ business practices on human rights.

In his testimony to the US Senate last spring, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that his company doesn’t sell user data, as if to reassure policymakers and the public. But the reality—that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media companies sell access to our attention—is just as concerning. Actual user information may not change hands, but the advertising business model drives company decision making in ways that are ultimately toxic to society. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci put it in her 2017 TED talk, “we’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.”

Social media companies are advertising companies. This has never been a secret, of course. Google pioneered the targeted advertising business model in the late 90s, and Sheryl Sandberg brought the practice to Facebook in 2008 when she joined the company as chief operating officer. The cash was flowing in, and companies around Silicon Valley and beyond adopted the same basic strategy: first, grow the user base as quickly as possible without worrying about revenue; second, collect as much data as possible about the users; third, monetize that information by performing big data analytics in order to show users advertising that is narrowly tailored to their demographics and revealed interests; fourth, profit.

For a while this seemed like a win-win: people around the world could watch cat videos, see pictures of each others' babies in Halloween costumes, connect with family, friends, and colleagues around the globe, and more. In return, companies would show them ads that were actually relevant to them. Contextual advertising had supported the print and broadcast media for decades, so this was the logical next step. What could possibly go wrong?

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Image: Shutterstock

Plenty, as it turns out. From today's vantage point, the Arab Spring stands out as an iconic cautionary tale of techno-utopianism gone wrong. Sure, would-be revolutionaries, reformers, and human rights defenders were among the first to master the power of what we used to call "Web 2.0," but authorities caught on quickly and used the new tools to crack down on threats to their grasp on power. Similarly, the 2008 Obama campaign was the first to harness online advertising to reach the right voters with the right message with near-surgical precision, but 10 years later the same techniques are propelling right-wing authoritarians to power in the US, the Philippines, and Brazil, and being used to fan the flames of xenophobia, racial hatred, and even genocide around the world—perhaps most devastatingly in Myanmar. How on Earth did we get here?

It all started with targeted advertising, and with the new economic arrangement that Harvard Business School scholar Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism." Just like 20th century firms like General Motors and Ford invented mass production and managerial capitalism, Google and Facebook figured out how to commodify "reality" itself by tracking what people (and not just their users) do online (and increasingly offline too), making predictions about what they might do in the future, devising ways to influence behavior from shopping to voting, and selling that power to whoever is willing to pay.

“As societies, we have never agreed that our private experience is available for extraction as behavioral data, much of which is then fed into supply chains for the manufacture of behavioral predictions,” Zuboff told me in a phone interview.

Zuboff’s new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontiers of Power, examines surveillance capitalism’s 20-year history, from the birth of online advertising in the late 1990s to today’s era of democratic regression. "Surveillance capitalism was invented in the context of targeted advertising," she said. "This was the material, historical context in which it originated in a moment of financial emergency during the dotcom bust. Google was a fledgling firm, and its investors were threatening to bail– in spite of its superior search product. That's when Google turned to previously discarded and ignored data logs and repurposed them as a 'behavioral surplus.' Instead of being used for product improvement, these behavioral data were directed toward an entirely new goal: predicting user behavior."

"If we were looking for a digital revolution, it happened in advertising online"

Zuboff predicts that if left unchecked, surveillance capitalism will be just as destructive as previous variants of capitalism have been, though in wholly new ways. “We are talking about the unilateral claiming of private human experience as raw material for product development and market exchange," she said. "Industrial capitalism claimed nature for itself, and only now are we faced with the consequences of that undertaking. In this new phase of capitalism’s development, it’s the raw material of human nature that drives a new market dynamic, in which predictions of our behavior are told and then sold. The economic imperatives of this new capitalism produce extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues from that knowledge. This is unprecedented territory with profound consequences for 21st century society.”

Online tracking is ubiquitous, Tim Libert, of Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, told me in an email. “Across the top one million websites you will be tracked on 91 percent of sites. I’ve been doing these types of scans for years and the results are always the same: you can’t browse the web without being tracked, period. Companies track you when you visit medical websites, pornography websites, websites for lawyers, websites for politicians, newspaper websites, and the same goes for apps. There are very few things that people don’t seek out or share using a computer and nearly all of that is tracked, all the time, by the billion dollar giants you see in the news as well as hundreds of companies you’ve never heard of.”

Companies collect this information in order to monetize it: while we may not see much value in the individual data points about our behavior, in the aggregate it adds up to big money.

When you visit a webpage that hosts advertising content, the ad network—Google’s DoubleClick, for example—chooses between showing you several ads. Because Google knows so much about you, your friends, your tastes, your habits, and your purchasing power, DoubleClick can calculate which ad you are most likely to click on and ultimately which product you’re most likely to purchase.

"That’s all 'AI' and 'machine learning' is for these companies: getting better at guessing what ads to show you," Libert said. "Every tiny bit of data increases the chances they show the 'right' ad so they never stop, they never sleep, and they never respect your privacy—every single day everybody at Google collectively works to one purpose: getting the percentage of 'right' ads shown slightly higher.”

It's almost impossible to know exactly how this "Digital Influence Machine," as a recent Data & Society report put it, works in a particular instance, just like it's impossible to know how climate change contributes to specific hurricanes. But in the aggregate, the connection is clear and undeniable.

“With advertising technology, political communication has changed dramatically,” Joan Donovan, who researches media manipulation and platform accountability at Data & Society, told me in an email. “If we were looking for a digital revolution, it happened in advertising online. Much of online advertising is completely unregulated and unmanaged. Political strategists understood this new opportunity and capitalized on it by serving up digital disinformation using ads as the delivery system. No politician can campaign ethically under these conditions because they are just out gunned by those who are willing to use these systems to do damage.”

In copying the traditional media's advertising-based business model, internet companies neglected to adopt a crucial rule: the separation between business operations and editorial decisions. Though the rule was far from universally respected, 20th century journalism's code of ethics prohibited financial considerations from influencing news coverage. This ethical screen allowed American capitalism to subsidize the press, which in turn helped keep the government and companies honest: checks and balances at work.

This all fell apart with targeted advertising, which stole journalism's lunch money and used it to sustain platforms whose driving logic isn't to educate, to inform, or to hold the powerful to account, but to keep people "engaged." This logic of "engagement" is motivated by the twin needs to collect more data and show more ads, and manifests itself in algorithms that value popularity over quality. In less than 20 years, Silicon Valley has replaced editorial judgment with mathematical measures of popularity, destabilized the democratic systems of checks and balances by hobbling the Fourth Estate, and hammered nail after nail into the coffin of privacy.

"We are witnessing a full-blown failure of trust in online platforms at a time when they are the most influential force in undermining or protecting democratic ideals around the world"

The targeted advertising business model incentivizes companies to amass as much information as they can: what their users do on the platforms themselves and what they do elsewhere on the internet. Google and Facebook even keep tabs on what people who don’t have an account with them do online, and use that information in their data modeling and to serve ads around the Web. More recently, they’ve started buying data about consumers’ credit card purchases and other offline activity. These digital dossiers contain revealing information about each of us individually and all of us collectively. It’s no surprise that governments are eager to get their hands on that data. For example, the 2013 Edward Snowden revelations contained details about several NSA programs, including PRISM, that relied on obtaining data from major technology companies, both with and without executives’ knowledge. Similar relationships between tech companies (including telecom operators) and state actors can be found in other countries, as well. Consequent human rights harms include extra-judicial surveillance, harassment, and physical harm as well chilling effects stemming from awareness of these risks.

At the group level, targeted advertising automates discrimination and normalizes it by seeming to take individual prejudice out of the equation. As Chris Gilliard explains in a recent essay, “surveillance capitalism turns a profit by making people more comfortable with discrimination,” this is manifested in practices like digital redlining, differential pricing, racist search results, and social media filter bubbles.

Safiya Noble, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Algorithms of Oppression, told me in an email that “we are dependent upon commercial search engines to sort truth from fiction, yet these too, are unreliable fact-checkers on many social and political issues. In essence, we are witnessing a full-blown failure of trust in online platforms at a time when they are the most influential force in undermining or protecting democratic ideals around the world.”

Targeted advertising causes us to experience the internet, and therefore the world, in different ways based on what the surveillance capitalism assemblage thinks it knows about us. This not a recipe for fairness, equality, or a just society.

Finally, targeted advertising and the algorithmic curation practices associated with it harms democracy itself. Advertising’s shift to digital has cannibalized the news media’s revenue, thus weakening the entire public sphere. And linking advertising to pageviews incentivizes media organizations to produce articles that perform well, sometimes at the expense of material that educates, entertains, or holds power-holders accountable. Targeted advertising provides tools for political advertisers and propagandists to micro-segment audiences in ways that inhibit a common understanding of reality. This creates a perfect storm for authoritarian populists like Rodrigo Duterte, Donald Trump, and Jairo Bolsanaro to seize power, with dire consequences for human rights. Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott, authors of the “Digital Deceit” report series, note that “we have permitted technologies that deliver information based on relevance and the desire to maximize attention capture to replace the normative function of editors and newsrooms.”

For decades, thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Karl Polanyi, and many others have repeatedly warned us that fascism is the direct consequence of subordinating human needs to the needs of the market. Having willfully ignored the lessons of history, we have allowed corporate greed to transform our media ecosystem into one that structurally favors authoritarian populism. Saving democracy requires more than reforming internet companies, of course, and the exact recipe for success varies by country. In the United States, we need to reverse 30 years of media deregulation, exponentially increase public support for public interest media, and address the structural inequalities in our electoral system that give power to a party that less than half the electorate supports.

The targeted advertising business model at the heart of surveillance capitalism needs to be restructured, maybe even replaced. But with what, and how do we get there?

Experts disagree on whether the targeted advertising ecosystem can be meaningfully reformed, and whether that will be enough to reverse its harmful impact on society. “Surveillance capitalism is no more limited to targeted advertising than managerial capitalism was limited to the production of the Ford model T,” said Zuboff, whose new book comes out in January. “This logic of accumulation has traveled far beyond its origins to new sectors and new forms of business operations. Like an invasive plant that faced no natural predators, surveillance capitalism has been allowed to take root and flourish in lawless space for two decades.”

Dipayan Ghosh, who studies privacy engineering at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, is more optimistic, but doesn’t rule out regulatory solutions. As the tech companies themselves argue, internet users may find value in targeted advertising that is personalized to their interests and helps them discover opportunities or events that are relevant to them. But the same infrastructure that lets you know when your favorite band is playing in your city also enables bad actors to disseminate nefarious ideas.

"This commercial regime is responsible for huge security threats," Ghosh, who worked as a tech policy advisor in the Obama White House and formerly was a US privacy and public policy advisor at Facebook, said in an interview. "We will need to treat the business model with policy measures in ways that raise up the good and cut off the bad. And if that doesn’t work, we may have to regulate against targeted advertising. I think we can find ways to allow targeted advertising done by Chanel or the NBA, and cut out the nefarious content pushed by Russian propagandists.”

The onus is on Silicon Valley to demonstrate that firms can guard against surveillance capitalism’s gravest harms without uprooting their business models—or better yet, to find new revenue streams that don’t rely on commodifying people’s private behavior. This is all the more important because people can’t meaningfully opt out.

While Google and Facebook let users opt out of seeing targeted ads, it’s impossible to opt out of being tracked or being included in the datasets used to create targeting algorithms. According to Carnegie Mellon’s Libert, “you may assume if you don’t see a targeted ad for shoes they stopped tracking you, but that’s not the case whatsoever. There are technological ways to prevent some level of tracking, but it’s like taking aspirin to cure your cancer, it may make you feel a little better for a few hours but you’re still dealing with cancer. The only way to root out the cancer of targeted advertising is regulation. Europe is conducting a grand experiment right now with GDPR, and the rest of the world is watching.”

Policymakers around the world, including in Washington, are increasingly aware that privacy and data protection are intimately linked to the basic structure of society. Neither they, nor the public, are likely to accept the status quo for much longer.

xwjdenDr. Nathalie MaréchalJason KoeblerFacebookThe Weakest LinkOpinióntargeted advertisinghacking weekweakest link
<![CDATA[The National Space Council Is Pushing for a 2028 Moon Mission]]>, 16 Nov 2018 15:32:55 +0000A mission to the moon tentatively scheduled for 2028 was pitched to the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group—a group of government and NASA officials headed by Vice President Mike Pence that’s in charge of brainstorming and organizing NASA’s long term plans—on Thursday.

NASA head Jim Bridenstine and NASA Associate Administrator for Policy and Strategy Tom Cremins presented a timeline for reaching and settling the moon in the late 2020s. The proposal is in response to a strong push from President Trump, who proposed a mission to the moon in December of 2017 without offering a plan for doing so, or a fleshed out explanation as to how such a mission would fit into NASA’s long-term plans.

The National Space Council announced that a mission to the moon would be a priority of the Trump administration in October of this year. However, a mission back to the moon is still controversial. Some National Science and Technology Council members, a space advisory group made up of Congresspeople, have suggested that NASA is better off focusing on a mission to Mars in the 2030s, which will require an intensive dedication of time and energy. However, Ted Cruz and Mike Pence—who head the National Science and Technology Council and National Space Council, respectively—have direct influence over space mission advisory councils, and they have both expressed support toward Trump’s idea of going to the moon.

Still, there could be budgetary restrictions that would prevent a moon mission. At the Thursday National Space Council meeting, Bridenstine said that a proposed 5 percent cut to NASA’s budget in 2020 would rule out such a mission entirely. “If that [cut] materializes, no, we’re not going to have what we need to go to the moon,” Bridenstine said, according to SpaceNews. “We’re certainly not going to have what we need to put boots on the moon.”

The National Science and Technology Council has explicitly stated that private companies would develop the technology that will take humans to Mars, and perhaps the moon. Some companies have already started to develop technology that could take humans to either location. Major government military contractor Lockheed Martin released plans for creating a reusable, crewed lunar lander back in October. Jeff Bezos has proposed sending unspecified metric tons of cargo to the moon in 2022. Meanwhile, SpaceX has vaguely proposed sending Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a group of artists around the moon in the Big Falcon Rocket in 2022, and while SpaceX has funding, these plans remain in their early stages.

7xybnbCaroline HaskinsEmanuel MaibergSpaceMarsnasaMoon
<![CDATA[Rule-Breaking Particles May Exist Near the Earth's Core]]>, 16 Nov 2018 14:00:00 +0000 Every once in a while, we hear about the horrifying creatures that have been discovered in the deep ocean, which has managed to cement the idea that the deep oceans are the most mysterious, unexplored regions on earth.

Let us propose a more mysterious, completely unexplored region: the core and mantle of the earth. According to research published in Nature on Thursday, the mantle may be home to liquids that defy known rules of chemistry because of the extreme temperatures and pressure exposed to materials in the region.

Per twentieth-century chemist Linus Pauling's third rule of crystal structures, crystals are more unstable when anions (negatively-charged ions) connect with one another by their “faces,” or long sides. He reasoned that anions would want to be as far away from positively-charged cations as possible, meaning that connecting anions by their points is a stable arrangement.

But at extreme temperatures and high amounts of pressure, these researchers proved, this rule is flipped upside down. In fact, eight-sided liquid silicates—molecules of silicon and oxygen that make up most of the earth’s mantle—can arrange themselves such that multiple faces directly connect with each other.

Silicates arranged through shared faces.
Image: Nature

This research could be used to unlock the the chemical evolution of the earth, molecule by molecule. “Modelling of processes involving deep Earth liquids requires information on their structures and compression mechanisms,” the paper reads. “Knowledge on physical and chemical properties of the melts 45 is important for understanding evolution of the deep Earth interiors.

The formation, circulation, and movement of solid and liquid rocks is the one of the biggest forces driving change of earth’s surface conditions. The liquids churning deep below the surface build the earth’s atmosphere, as well as its magnetic sphere, which influences earth’s distribution of gravity and powers human telecommunications.

The researchers used used single-crystal X-ray diffraction diamond anvil cells, which captures the intricate, microscopic structures of crystals. Using those X-ray results, the researchers used computer modeling to simulate to the arrangement of silicate molecules under different amounts of pressure and temperature. Since we can’t actually visit the mantle or core of the earth, computer modeling is necessary in order to understand the composition of particles in the regions.

Scientists have proposed that liquid silicates compress in strange ways under godly amounts of pressure, but prior to now, this face-sharing arrangement of silicates has never been modeled.

The core and mantle of the earth is a growing area of interest for scientists around the world. Earlier this month, researchers from Spain used data from Antarctica’s IceCube observatory in order to link neutrinos—small, difficult-to-detect that are abundant throughout the universe—with the weight and composition of the earth’s inner layers.

Obviously, it would be great to be able to be able to take a tram down to the core and mantle of the earth and gather first-hand silicate data. But if you’ve read or seen Journey to the Center of the Earth, you know that’s a bad (and also impossible) idea, and modeling research like this is the best alternative to the real thing.

bjenpwCaroline HaskinsEmanuel MaibergearthChemistrycoreearth's coresilicates
<![CDATA[With $20 of Gear from Amazon, Nearly Anyone Can Make This IMSI-Catcher in 30 Minutes]]>, 16 Nov 2018 14:00:00 +0000 The Weakest Link is Motherboard's third, annual theme week dedicated to the future of hacking and cybersecurity. Follow along here.

With some dirt cheap tech I bought from Amazon and 30-minutes of set-up time, I was streaming sensitive information from phones all around me. IMSIs, the unique identifier given to each SIM card, can be used to confirm whether someone is in a particular area. They can also be used as part of another attack to take over a person’s phone number and redirect their text messages. Obtaining this information was incredibly easy, even for a non-expert.

This attack isn’t revolutionary in any way—IMSI-catchers are certainly not new, and have become famous because they are commonly (and controversially) used by law enforcement to track suspected criminals. A commercial version made by Harris is called a “Stingray,” and they are sometimes called “cell-site simulators” or “fake cell towers.” This is because they spoof a cell phone tower’s connection, meaning that cell phones in the area will try to connect to it; in doing so, the IMSI-catcher is able to passively collect information about phones in the area.

Harris’s Stingray was so secretive that, for years, the FBI dropped criminal court cases that used Stingrays rather than reveal the details of how the evidence was gathered.

But a DIY IMSI catcher is relatively trivial to setup, and the technology is accessible to anyone with a cheap laptop, $20 of gear, and, the ability to essentially copy and paste some commands into a computer terminal. This is about ease of access; a lower barrier of technical entry. In a similar way to so-called spouseware—malware used by abusive partners—surveillance takes on different character when it trickles down to more ordinary, everyday users. The significance and threat from IMSI-catchers is multiplied when a lot more people can deploy one.

Got a tip? You can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, OTR chat on, or email

For legal and technical reasons, our IMSI-catcher did not intercept text messages or phone calls, like more powerful versions can. It only captured IMSIs from devices, as well as provides some additional information such as the country and telecom operator of the phone. Motherboard did not store any of the collected data. You should be aware of the laws in your local region before attempting to do this; Motherboard does not condone or suggest you do anything illegal (and, even if legal, you shouldn’t use an IMSI catcher to do anything creepy.)

We’ll explain what each of these are, but in short, the process was:

  • Buy a cheap, software defined radio
  • Install Ubuntu
  • Download IMSI-catcher script with its dependencies
  • Find the right frequency to scan for
  • Start scanning on that frequency and picking up IMSIs
Caption: A redacted photo of IMSIs captured by the SDR and related script. Image: Motherboard

If I wanted to make the IMSI-catcher a bit more portable, I could theoretically run it on a Raspberry-Pi, a miniature computer you can buy for as little as $30 or cheaper, depending on what model you need. Note that the IMSI-catcher would still need to have Ubuntu on the Pi, which it is not traditionally designed for, but it is likely possible. I would also need to make sure the SDR is receiving enough power from the USB port.

In all, the process of making an IMSI-catcher didn’t take much time at all, as I thankfully didn’t hit any roadblocks. I just made sure I had the latest version of Ubuntu, followed the instructions carefully, and ended up with an IMSI-catcher on my laptop.

gy7qm9Joseph CoxJason KoeblerspyingSURVEILLANCEHackingThe Weakest LinkIMSIState of SurveillanceCell Phone Trackingimsi catcherubuntu
<![CDATA[How to Tell if Your Account Has Been Hacked]]>, 16 Nov 2018 14:00:00 +0000 The Weakest Link is Motherboard's third, annual theme week dedicated to the future of hacking and cybersecurity. Follow along here.

Hackers routinely target high profile victims like politicians or wealthy cryptocurrency investors. But you could become a target too. Maybe an abusive former partner wants to stalk you, or a run-of-the-mill cybercriminal wants to get into your bank account.

If you think you have been targeted, or worse, hacked, how can you even tell if someone got hold of your account?

That’s actually a really hard question to answer, as different online services offer different types of data, and it’s usually not that easy to find. In this small guide, we’ll teach you the basic steps you can take to see if there’s any trace of an intrusion in your online accounts, such as Gmail, Microsoft’s email, Facebook, and Twitter.

A word of caution: sometimes, you won’t be able to get a definitive answer on whether there’s been a breach. If you think there was, we suggest talking to a professional, such as your local IT store employee, or Access Now’s digital security helpline. Also, this guide only covers breaches of online services, if a hacker has broken into your computer, all these services could be compromised and the techniques described here wouldn’t necessarily help you detect that kind of breach.


The first thing you need to do if you suspect someone has gotten into your Gmail account is check “Last Account Activity.” You can find it in the bottom right corner of your main Gmail interface.

This will force log out anyone else who’s logged into your account. We suggest you then change your password.

bjeznzLorenzo Franceschi-BicchieraiEmanuel MaibergInstagramFacebookTwitterHackingcybersecurityhackersThe Weakest LinkInfoseccybercrimeGmailinformation security