Some of the biggest names in the U.S. entertainment industry have expressed a recent interest in a topic that’s seemingly far away from their core business: shutting down online prostitution. Disney, for instance, recently wrote to key U.S. senators expressing their support for SESTA, a bill that was originally aimed at sex traffickers. For its part, 20th Century Fox told the same senators that anyone doing business online “has a civic responsibility to help stem illicit and illegal activity.”Late last year, the bill the entertainment companies supported morphed from SESTA into FOSTA, and then into a kind of Frankenstein bill that combines the worst aspects of both. The bill still does nothing to catch or punish traffickers, or provide help to victims of sex trafficking.
Daily Archives: March 22, 2018
A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope. Facebook has a startling amount of data on everyone who uses the social media platform. And we helped upload it. Last week, a whistleblower revealed that the data firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly harvested data on millions of Facebook users for a targeted political campaign to help President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. (Cambridge Analytica contends that the data was not part of its work for the Trump campaign.) Social media users are understandably wondering what kind of data Facebook has accumulated about them and how it is protecting that data. Days before Wylie came forward, I had already begun work on a story (this story) about a little-known feature on Facebook that lets you download in a single .zip file some of the personal data that the platform stores. The discovery that Cambridge Analytica had managed to leverage Facebook’s scale is undoubtedly shocking, but it’s worth putting in context with the wealth of information the platform has collected about private individuals — myself included.
YouTube’s app specifically for children is meant to filter out adult content and provide a “world of learning and fun,” but Business Insider found that YouTube Kids featured many conspiracy theory videos which make claims that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that the planet is ruled by reptile-human hybrids.YouTube Kids is a separate app from the main YouTube app, and it’s meant to allow parents to let their children browse YouTube without being worried about any unsuitable content appearing. Children are encouraged to learn languages, read books, and watch educational videos.Search for “UFO” on YouTube Kids and you’ll mostly find videos of toys that are clearly fine for children to watch. But one of the top videos claimed to show a UFO shooting at a chemtrail, and we found several videos by prominent conspiracy theorist David Icke in the suggested videos. YouTube removed the videos from YouTube Kids after we contacted it about the issue.
Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting “scam” at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships.Facebook provided the dataset of “every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level” to Kogan’s University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time.
Assuming you’re still on Facebook—and it’s totally OK if you deleted the service this week, it really is—the company just launched a new update to its Messenger app that gives you and you friends a lot more power over your group conversations (for whoever started them). Here’s how it works.Flexing your new admin powers against unwanted guestsFacebook Messenger’s new update gives admins of group conversations—the friend that added you and 45 other people to a conversation about an upcoming party, some funny picture they saw on the Internet, or cats—a lot more power over who can join the group at any point. An admin could, for instance, use the approval process to ensure that nobody accidentally adds the subject of a surprise party to a group message about the planning process.Screenshot: FacebookThe problem with the feature is that Facebook—in its infinite wisdom—has decided to obfuscate these settings as much as it possibly can.The great thing about admin privileges in Messenger is they work in the background; if your group chat doesn’t need that level of control, it won’t get in the way of your group messaging. You’ll have the option to decide if you’d like admin approval for approving new members, but this preference is off by default in your group chat settings.It’s a little weird that Facebook is keeping these admin rights turned off by default. Isn’t the entire point that you want to preemptively stop people in groups from adding people who shouldn’t be in the group? If the birthday boy slips in while you’re all chatting about what flavor of cake you’re going to get for the big surprise, the moment is already ruined.
Good vibrations for movement perceptionThe ability to sense the spatial position and movements of one’s own body (kinesthetic sense) is critical for limb use. Because prostheses do not provide physical feedback during movement, amputees may not feel that they are in control of their bodily movements (sense of agency) when manipulating a prosthesis. Marasco et al. developed an automated neural-machine interface that vibrates the muscles used for control of prosthetic hands. This system instilled kinesthetic sense in amputees, allowing them to control prosthetic hand movements in the absence of visual feedback and increasing their sense of agency. This approach might be an effective strategy for improving motor performance and quality of life in amputees.
To effortlessly complete an intentional movement, the brain needs feedback from the body regarding the movement’s progress. This largely nonconscious kinesthetic sense helps the brain to learn relationships between motor commands and outcomes to correct movement errors. Prosthetic systems for restoring function have predominantly focused on controlling motorized joint movement. Without the kinesthetic sense, however, these devices do not become intuitively controllable. We report a method for endowing human amputees with a kinesthetic perception of dexterous robotic hands. Vibrating the muscles used for prosthetic control via a neural-machine interface produced the illusory perception of complex grip movements. Within minutes, three amputees integrated this kinesthetic feedback and improved movement control. Combining intent, kinesthesia, and vision instilled participants with a sense of agency over the robotic movements. This feedback approach for closed-loop control opens a pathway to seamless integration of minds and machines
When you spot a newt crossing the hiking path ahead of you, you might think it’s just another cute creature to add to your species sighting list. Of course, it is another cute creature – but it’s also a creature with a seriously strong built-in defense mechanism.Newts are part of the genus Taricha, and these species produce neurotoxins to ward off being eaten by predators. Just how strong of a toxin? Tetrodoxtoxin, or TTX, is the same neurotoxin that’s found in pufferfish and some other animals. It’s hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide. It’s strong enough to kill most vertebrates if it’s ingested. Most predators will avoid newts, and wisely so. However, the common garter snake is known to feast on newts because it has built up a tolerance for the toxin in a long evolutionary arms race.But can a newt really kill a human? Yes! But only if you swallow it. The proof is in the death of a 29-year-old man who swallowed one on a bet in 1979.
Lawmakers pressed President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the National Security Agency over the government’s failure to deter Russian cyber aggression Thursday at the same time the Treasury Department imposed the broadest sanctions to date against Russian government hackers.The timing underscored two points made frequently by government cyber officials and by their critics outside government. First, the best response to a cyber strike often isn’t a cyber counterstrike. Second, those non-cyber responses, though they keep piling up, still aren’t doing the trick.Thursday’s sanctions target five Russian entities, including intelligence services and social troll creator, the Internet Research Agency, as well as 19 individuals, many of whom were previously indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.The sanctions respond both to Russian meddling in the 2016 election and to global cyber mischief such as the NotPetya ransomware attack, which locked computers around the world last year.The Treasury Department notice also cited Russian efforts to burrow into government and critical industry computer systems, including in the energy, nuclear, aviation and manufacturing sectors. Those efforts were detailed in a separate joint technical alert from the Homeland Security Department and the FBI.
St. Catherine University (generally referred to locally as St. Kate’s) is a Catholic school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Its undergraduate school is for women. For the last few years, St. Kate’s has put on a “leadership conference” for students and others. But on December 8, this year’s conference, which was scheduled for January 19 and had approximately 200 registrants, was abruptly canceled. A St. Kate’s dean explained what happened in an email to the 30 individuals who had been selected as presenters at the conference, out of 58 who applied:We received 58 proposals to fill the 30 slots on the program. The selections were made solely based on their fit with the three themes of the conference: Explore your purpose, Ignite your passion and Inspire excellence.This same process was used last year in order to be blind throughout the process so as not to exclude or unintentionally over represent a particular industry over another in the presenters collective. While well intentioned, it is a case where a blind process has led to a racial and ethnic blind outcome.In an article in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, reporter Maura Lerner follows up:Last fall, St. Catherine University invited 30 businesswomen and inspirational speakers to lead the breakout sessions at a popular annual leadership conference.But the conference, which was billed as a networking and career-building event, never took place. The university canceled it because of what it called a lack of diversity among the invited speakers.The decision, which caught many of the speakers by surprise, has cast the Catholic university in St. Paul in an uncomfortable national spotlight. Last week, the conservative website Campus Reform reported that St. Catherine had pulled the plug on the event because “most, if not all the scheduled speakers ended up being white.”
Google has announced that it will be cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising, furthering the “crypto blackout” online.According to new policies relating to financial services to be rolled out in June, among newly banned content will be anything related to cryptocurrency:“Cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice)”While the spirit of the ban appears to be targeted at ICOs and speculation, it will also affect other cryptocurrency information as well, from simple usage guides to wallets, news sites, general information, and more.Google Joins Facebook in the Crypto Ad BlackoutGoogle follows in Facebook’s footsteps in the crypto ad crackdown. Earlier this year, Facebook similarly banned cryptocurrency-related advertising. Now with Google joining in the ban, two of the most powerful online advertising networks have blocked out cryptocurrency. This united front will make reaching new users considerably more difficult, and will increase the value of earned media, solidifying gatekeeper status by major publications. Additionally, it may also give rise to more covert approaches to dodging ad filters, with cryptocurrency-related content packaged as something else.
Cryonics — freezing humans for later revival — has been a staple of science fiction for ages. Maybe you want to be cured of something presently incurable or you just want to see the future. Of course, ignoring the problem of why anyone wants to thaw out a 500-year-old person, no one has a proven technology for thawing out one of these corpsicles. You are essentially betting that science will figure that out sometime before your freezer breaks down. A new startup called Nectome funded by Y Combinator wants to change your thinking about preservation. Instead of freezing they will pump you full of preservatives that preserve your brain including fine structures that scientists currently believe contain your memories.
Nectome’s strategy isn’t to have you revived like in conventional cryonics. They think the technology to do high definition scans of your preserved brain will exist soon. Those scans might allow future scientists to recreate your brain in a simulation. That isn’t really the same as coming back to life, though. At least we don’t imagine it is.The company bills their process as archiving your brain, although since the process kills you, you are going to need to be legally eligible for euthanasia to take advantage of the process. There is a belief that structures known as connectomes hold your memories and these are preserved using this process. You can watch a TED talk about that subject, above.
Defy Ventures brings the gospel of entrepreneurship to an unlikely place: prisons.The nonprofit company founded by Catherine Hoke says it is dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated people start their own businesses and stay out of prison. “Transform the hustle,” the company’s tagline encourages.Defy has received grants from Google and the conservative Koch brothers. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote a foreword to Hoke’s new memoir. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Hoke’s work “incredibly inspiring” on his podcast. Hoke’s project even has White House interest: She had a call with Jared Kushner’s office in January to discuss a visit about prison reform.But while Defy woos Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., scandal has rocked the company’s leadership. Last month, Defy fired its president after he blew the whistle on allegations of sexual harassment by Hoke and fraudulent statistics exaggerating the program’s successes.Hoke describes Defy as a second chance—not just for people with criminal histories, but for herself. A former employee at a private equity firm, Hoke left Wall Street to launch a business skills-training program for Texas prisoners in 2004. In 2009, she was banned from Texas prisons after she was discovered to have had sexual relations with four program graduates.