In Court, Facebook Blames Users for Destroying Their Own Right to Privacy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/06/2019 - 1:50am in



In April 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat before members of both houses of Congress and told them his company respected the privacy of the roughly two billion people who use it. “Privacy” remained largely undefined throughout Zuckerberg’s televised flagellations, but he mentioned the concept more than two dozen times, including when he told the Senate’s Judiciary and Commerce committees, “We have a broader responsibility to protect people’s privacy even beyond” a consent decree from federal privacy regulators, and when he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “We believe that everyone around the world deserves good privacy controls.” A year later, Zuckerberg claimed in interviews and essays to have discovered the religion of personal privacy and vowed to rebuild the company in its image.

But only months after Zuckerberg first outlined his “privacy-focused vision for social networking” in a 3,000-word post on the social network he founded, his lawyers were explaining to a California judge that privacy on Facebook is nonexistent.

The courtroom debate, first reported by Law360, took place as Facebook tried to scuttle litigation from users upset that their personal data was shared without their knowledge with the consultancy Cambridge Analytica and later with advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign. The full transcript of the proceedings — which has been quoted from only briefly — reveal one of the most stunning examples of corporate doublespeak certainly in Facebook’s history.

Representing Facebook before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria was Orin Snyder of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, who claimed that the plaintiffs’ charges of privacy invasion were invalid because Facebook users have no expectation of privacy on Facebook. The simple act of using Facebook, Snyder claimed, negated any user’s expectation of privacy:

There is no privacy interest, because by sharing with a hundred friends on a social media platform, which is an affirmative social act to publish, to disclose, to share ostensibly private information with a hundred people, you have just, under centuries of common law, under the judgment of Congress, under the SCA, negated any reasonable expectation of privacy.

An outside party can’t violate what you yourself destroyed, Snyder seemed to suggest. Snyder was emphatic in his description of Facebook as a sort of privacy anti-matter, going so far as to claim that “the social act of broadcasting your private information to 100 people negates, as a matter of law, any reasonable expectation of privacy.” You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more elegant, concise description of Facebook than “the social act of broadcasting your private information” to people. So not only is it Facebook’s legal position that you’re not entitled to any expectation of privacy, but it’s your fault that the expectation went poof the moment you started using the site (or at least once you connected with 100 Facebook “friends”).

Judge Chhabria was skeptical of Snyder’s privacy nonexistence argument at times, which he rejected as treating personal privacy as a binary, “like either you have a full expectation of privacy, or you have no expectation of privacy at all,” the judge put it at one point. Chhabria continued with a relatable hypothetical:

If I share [information] with ten people, that doesn’t eliminate my expectation of privacy. It might diminish it, but it doesn’t eliminate it. And if I share something with ten people on the understanding that the entity that is helping me share it will not further disseminate it to a thousand companies, I don’t understand why I don’t have — why that’s not a violation of my expectation of privacy.

Snyder responded with an incredible metaphor for how Facebook sees your use of its services — legally, at least:

Let me give you a hypothetical of my own. I go into a classroom and invite a hundred friends. This courtroom. I invite a hundred friends, I rent out the courtroom, and I have a party. And I disclose — And I disclose something private about myself to a hundred people, friends and colleagues. Those friends then rent out a 100,000-person arena, and they rebroadcast those to 100,000 people. I have no cause of action because by going to a hundred people and saying my private truths, I have negated any reasonable expectation of privacy, because the case law is clear.

And there it is, in broad daylight: Using Facebook is a depressing party taking place in a courtroom, for some reason, that’s being simultaneously broadcasted to a 100,000-person arena on a sort of time delay. If you show up at the party, don’t be mad when your photo winds up on the Jumbotron. That is literally the company’s legal position.

Again and again, Snyder blames the targets of surveillance capitalism for their own surveillance:

This is why every parent says to their child, “Do not post it on Facebook if you don’t want to read about it tomorrow morning in the school newspaper,” or, as I tell my young associates if I were going to be giving them an orientation, “Do not put anything on social media that you don’t want to read in the Law Journal in the morning.” There is no expectation of privacy when you go on a social media platform, the purpose of which, when you are set to friends, is to share and communicate things with a large group of people, a hundred people.

At one point Chhabria asked, seemingly unable to believe Snyder’s argument himself, “If Facebook promises not to disseminate anything that you send to your hundred friends, and Facebook breaks that promise and disseminates your photographs to a thousand corporations, that would not be a serious privacy invasion?

Snyder didn’t blink: “Facebook does not consider that to be actionable, as a matter of law under California law.”

Facebook’s counsel did seem to concede one possibility for the existence of privacy on Facebook: someone who uses Facebook completely contrary to the way it’s designed and to the way it has always been marketed. “If you really want to be private,” Snyder proposed to the court, “there are people who have archival Facebook pages that are like their own private mausoleum. It’s only set to [be visible by] me, and it’s for the purpose of repository, you know, of your private information, and no one will ever see that.” So these are your possible valid legal statuses as a Facebook user: You’re either plugged into the 100,0000-person perpetual surveillance Coachella or living in a digital “mausoleum.” But if you ever decide to fling open the doors of your private data crypt and, say, share a little content on Facebook with friends, as the company has been pushing us for the past 13 years, Snyder says you’re out of luck:

Once you go to friends, the gig is over because you’ve just gone — taken a hundred people and pronounced your personal likes and dislikes. In fact, the very act of liking something and showing your friends that you like something is a non-private act. It’s the whole premise of Facebook and social media, is to render not private your likes, your dislikes, your expressions. When I tag someone in a photo, it’s to tell people, not keep private, that I’m sitting on a park bench with John Smith. So it’s the opposite of private when you do that.

Facebook’s stance that if one truly wants to keep something private, they should keep it far from Facebook is odd — odder, still, given the fact that the company publishes an extremely detailed privacy policy, perhaps only meant for those huddling in private mausoleums where such a principle still exists.

“Facebook was built to bring people closer together,” reads the start of the company’s “Privacy Principles.” “We help you connect with friends and family, discover local events and find groups to join.” Not mentioned is that if you do any of that, it’s Facebook’s official opinion that you’ve “negated” your claim to any privacy whatsoever. The list of principles reads like a bad joke after studying Snyder’s courtroom theorizing: “We design privacy into our products from the outset” seems hard to reconcile with “Once you go to friends, the gig is over.” It’s similarly hard to take “We give you control of your privacy” seriously after hearing, through Snyder, that because Facebook users “shared the information … you’ve lost control over the information and its subsequent disclosure.”

So which is true, then? Are we to believe Orin Snyder when he says Facebook privacy is an oxymoron and that showing something to even a small group of friends completely forfeits your right to privacy, or Mark Zuckerberg when, this past March, he wrote, “We’ve worked hard to build privacy into all our products, including those for public sharing.” These statements can’t both be true, and yet they appear to originate from the same company, albeit from two separate sides of its mouth. Perhaps Snyder is right when he tells the judge that the litigation isn’t really about just Facebook, but rather, the “Complaint is really a Complaint about ubiquitous sharing on social media platforms. … They don’t like it because when you go on a social media platform and share your information with a hundred people, you’ve lost control. And that creates anxiety, and that creates concern.” It will be interesting to watch Facebook confront this public dread in multiple ways at once, as if originating in completely different dimensions, apologizing for their misdeeds in media tours while denying any wrongdoing in the relative privacy of court.

Neither Facebook nor Orin Snyder responded to a request for comment. Plaintiff’s counsel declined to comment.

The post In Court, Facebook Blames Users for Destroying Their Own Right to Privacy appeared first on The Intercept.

SSRN launching improved citations and references service, CiteRight

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/06/2019 - 12:28am in

SSRN CiteRight citations and references service launching soon
SSRN is delighted to announce that in early July we’re going to be launching a new service called CiteRight, which shows where a paper on SSRN has been cited by other researchers, both in papers on SSRN and across the Web.

As we transition to the new system, the current CiteReader SSRN citations and references will be hidden on the system for just over week, and we expect the new service to be up and running from the beginning of July once our final testing is complete.

As SSRN has grown, we have recognized the need to adapt our citations management so that we can more quickly and accurately meet the increasing rate of submissions to our site.

Given the enormous value of citations to our authors and institutional partners, we’ve spent the last year working on a completely new service called CiteRight, which replaces the current CiteReader service.

The new CiteRight service has two important elements: The first element is a fast and accurate reference extraction algorithm that can extract citations of your papers on SSRN when it is uploaded or revised. The service will be updating citation counts of papers on our site every day.

The second element is a connection to the CrossRef look up service, which means that once your paper has a DOI and starts to become cited beyond SSRN, we’ll be able to display a second set of CrossRef citations for your paper to provide a more complete picture of how your paper is being shared across the Web.

We appreciate your patience as we get the new service up and running. We expect that the vast majority of papers on SSRN are likely to see an increase in their citations but do let us know if you see any changes to your papers that don’t make sense, and we’ll work to promptly resolve any issues.

The SSRN Team is excited to get citations and references moving more quickly on SSRN. We look forward to working with you to evolve the new CiteRight service to ensure that it’s as accurate and as comprehensive as we can make it.

Please send us any comments or feedback to – we’d love to hear from you.


Team of American Hackers and Emirati Spies Discussed Attacking The Intercept

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/06/2019 - 1:18am in

Operatives at a controversial cybersecurity firm working for the United Arab Emirates government discussed targeting The Intercept and breaching the computers of its employees, according to two sources, including a member of the hacking team who said they were present at a meeting to plan for such an attack.

The firm, DarkMatter, brought ex-National Security Agency hackers and other U.S. intelligence and military veterans together with Emirati analysts to compromise the computers of political dissidents at home and abroad, including American citizens, Reuters revealed in January. The news agency also reported that the FBI is investigating DarkMatter’s use of American hacking expertise and the possibility that it was wielded against Americans.

The campaign against dissidents and critics of the Emirati government, code-named Project Raven, began in Baltimore. A 2016 Intercept article by reporter Jenna McLaughlin revealed how the Maryland-based computer security firm CyberPoint assembled a team of Americans for a contract to hone UAE’s budding hacking and surveillance capabilities, leaving some recruits unsettled. Much of the CyberPoint team was later poached by DarkMatter, a firm with close ties to the Emirati government and headquartered just two floors from the Emirati equivalent of the NSA, the National Electronic Security Authority (which later became the Signals Intelligence Agency). One of McLaughlin’s sources described the episode as something of a “hostile takeover” by the UAE government. A subsequent story by McLaughlin  for Foreign Policy detailed how American spies at DarkMatter had been crucial in building the UAE’s intelligence apparatus. The NESA would go on to become Project Raven’s primary “client,” responsible for handing down groups and organizations to be targeted and compromised.

“When the article hit, it mentioned DarkMatter, so we had to tiger team a response.”

According to the hacking team source, who discussed the episode on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press, the 2016 reporting revealing the connection between DarkMatter and the Emirati government made The Intercept a target. “When [McLaughlin’s first] article hit, it mentioned DarkMatter, so we had to tiger team a response to that,” said the source, using jargon for a specialized response group. “Any time NESA or DarkMatter had any media, we would get pulled in to develop target lists.”

Project Raven monitored the internet for mentions of DarkMatter, said Jonathan Cole, an ex-Raven employee who worked in targeting, to make sure that the public-facing cybersecurity company’s name wasn’t attached to the work being done by its hackers on behalf of the NESA. “When an article like this would come out, [the client] would be very upset,” the source added, referring to the NESA.

The Emirati consulate did not return a request for comment about NESA’s relationship with DarkMatter or allegations of targeting American citizens.

A second person familiar with the matter confirmed discussions about targeting The Intercept, saying the talks included Marc Baier, a top American DarkMatter executive formerly with the NSA. This person did not say if the discussions led to a decision.

Following several news reports tying DarkMatter to Emirati government surveillance, DarkMatter chief financial officer Samer Khalife moved some Americans from DarkMatter to a new company, Connection Systems, according to the second source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The purpose of the new company was to create the appearance that DarkMatter no longer conducted surveillance and cyberoperations on behalf of the Emirati government — but Khalife installed his brother as the company’s nominal boss, this person said. Connection Systems today employs multiple former DarkMatter staffers, according to LinkedIn.

Neither Khalife nor Baier responded to a request for comment.

It is not clear if an attack against The Intercept was ever carried out. The Intercept was unable to find evidence of an attack by DarkMatter on its computers. But the targeting would have happened in 2016, so it’s possible that malicious messages were rejected by a spam filter or discarded in the intervening years.

A third source familiar with Project Raven, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss their work, said they were not aware of any attempt to target The Intercept or its employees, and that it was unlikely a coordinated attack of that sort could have been attempted by DarkMatter’s resident NESA hackers without attracting the attention of their American counterparts. Still, this source noted that the covert targeting of an American publication by Emirati nationals was technically possible.

Other ex-Project Raven members contacted by The Intercept declined to comment, some citing the FBI investigation. The FBI declined to comment.

In an email to The Intercept, DarkMatter’s marketing chief Priscilla Dunn said the company “rejects” the claim that it targeted The Intercept in retaliation for prior coverage. Dunn declined to specifically deny that this discussion took place and refused to comment on the existence of Project Raven or the company’s collaboration with the NESA, providing instead the following statement:

Our work in cyber security is single-mindedly focused on defensive capabilities. Our values and principles call for us to have the highest impact on the societies and economies we serve.

We develop our own intellectual property and partner with vetted global-technology companies and the government to develop cybersecurity products, solutions and services that are all in public view on our website.

Cyber security is still a relatively young field and the discussion around it is increasingly polarized. DarkMatter wants to be part of this discussion and has been a leading voice in the media and in forums on how to build cyber resilient societies, economies and institutions.


Aldar HQ office building where DarkMatter has their headquarters.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

Planning and Execution

The hacking team source said that they did not participate in any attempt to hack The Intercept, but were present in a conference room inside Project Raven’s Abu Dhabi headquarters when the attack was discussed. According to the source, others in the room included Al Anood Al Kaabi and Fatema Mohammed Al Shehhi, two NESA analysts; and Ryan Adams, the team’s American operations director, a U.S. Air Force veteran. None responded to requests for comment.

“Literally, the guidance to us as the target developers was, ‘Here’s the article, find the people responsible, find the people pushing it around, that’s your target list — go,’” the source said.

“The guidance was, ‘Here’s the article, find the people responsible — go.’”

According to the hacking team source and Cole, target lists drawn up by individual Project Raven analysts in response to a news article typically included not only the article’s author, but also potentially others connected to that person, including anyone who might have contributed to, edited, or even shared the article. Counterattacks against negative mentions of the Emirati government — and the NESA in particular — cast a “pretty wide net,” said the hacking team source, sometimes sweeping up not only an article’s author, but also the “author’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or brother … two or three hops out” from the original target. The idea was to hack anyone who might be communicating with the target, Cole said, and to “go get anyone you can to get a foothold in this organization” in order to spy on their sources, as the source put it. Compiling an actual target list would be up to individual Project Raven analysts.

After the target list was set, the next step would have involved the execution of a text, social media, and email spearphishing campaign by NESA analysts “trying to quiet the issue or redirect attention” away from the negative article.

Phishing messages are designed to trick the recipient into taking some action, and in national security cases at DarkMatter typically involved trying to get them to open malicious documents in common formats like PDF, RTF, and Microsoft Word, which would be sent by email, according to Cole.

Such attacks were conducted after scouting for an individual’s digital weaknesses, according to the hacking team source and Cole. “When you did your target research, [that included] the basics about a person, their technical footprint, any social media accounts, any selectors, mobile, email, social handles, things like that,” said the hacking team source. Once a target’s online life was mapped, “you could pair those with [computer] exploits” from DarkMatter’s “in-house exploit inventory.” If the client “really wanted them bad,” Project Raven would purchase exploits from a third party, including so-called zero day software vulnerabilities, or those that have yet to be identified by the software’s maker. Such attacks are particularly dangerous and difficult to guard against. If opened, such exploits could have granted persistent access to the target’s computer.

According to Cole, trying to breach a journalist was typically a means to an end rather than an attempt to damage the journalist themselves. “If someone from The Intercept was talking to a [national security] target,” Cole explained, “you could go after an Intercept account” in order to get to that national security objective. Project Raven hackers would often work to build a rapport with a target by posing as a potential source or supporter through initial messages, only later springing the trap. “Once you elicit trust, you can inject a [malicious] document into the chain,” said Cole. “It’s more probable someone will open an exploit if you’ve established communications in safe manner.”

If targets traveled to the UAE, Project Raven would take advantage of their proximity, at times going so far as to break into a target’s room, explained the hacking team source: “If they’re in country we just go to the service provider and say, ‘Hey, we need … access,’ [or] poison their wireless access at a hotel.” This source said that Project Raven tasked members of the Emirati State Security Department to “dress up as cable guys, do fake repairs, be in a hotel where you needed to be, swap out your laptop charger for one that looks similar” in order to compromise a target’s devices.

Project Raven’s practice of targeting journalists, American or otherwise, was disclosed in the Reuters report, which mentioned the presence of “three … American names on the hidden targeting queue” at DarkMatter in Abu Dhabi. These names have yet to be identified. According to the report, “One of [DarkMatter’s] key targets in 2012 was Rori Donaghy … a British journalist and activist who authored articles critical of the country’s human rights record.”


NESA analysts and DarkMatter personnel discussed targeting The Intercept at a property in this neighborhood of Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa City, a private residential suburb whose rental villas are popular among business executives and expats.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Google Map

The Americans

The hacking team source said that although they personally refused to help target U.S. individuals and organizations, that work ended up being done one way or another. “Unfortunately when you generate a target list and you’re working with a small tiger team, I can say all day long that I’m not working that person that’s on the list, but then it’s just given to the next person on the team,” the source said. The prevailing feeling, they added, would be “the client fucking wants this now, we need to do it. The client doesn’t care what the citizenship is.”

“The client fucking wants this now, we need to do it. The client doesn’t care what the citizenship is.”

Cole, who worked on similar operations against non-U.S. targets, said he had no involvement in or firsthand knowledge of efforts to hack Americans or American computer systems, but recalled being warned about these efforts by a concerned American co-worker at the time. Cole also said he worried Americans were being targeted by the American-aided hackers, despite assurances from above that any information on U.S. citizens vacuumed into the group’s central repository of hacked data was accidental. Cole says he now believes such collection was deliberate, and that Project Raven’s leadership falsely claimed that the U.S. government was informed of any incidental surveillance of Americans and that such data was routinely purged from DarkMatter computers. “I suspected that for a while,” he told The Intercept. “I was raising the flag in monitoring for that specific thing. The understanding was [collected American data] was being communicated back to the U.S. intelligence agencies. That’s what we were led to believe, but we found out later that was a fallacy.” Files from American sources that Cole’s managers promised him they would delete wound up sticking around. “There was always different rationales and excuses,” Cole said, when a promised purge of American data failed to materialize. “I was told one thing and observed another.”

Also worrying, according to Cole, was the shifting role of Americans in Project Raven. They were ostensibly present in DarkMatter’s Abu Dhabi villa for training purposes. In practice, for legal reasons, that meant they sometimes gave very specific directions under the guidelines that they could do “everything but hands on the keyboard,” as Cole put it, “providing the steps and instructions” for hacking the NESA’s targets worldwide without actually executing any of the steps. “However,” Cole explained, “that translated into very little. … It got to the point where nobody was around to train, so we were just doing it [all].” According to the second source familiar with DarkMatter’s discussions about targeting The Intercept, questions of legality have been a perennial worry across DarkMatter, even when U.S. citizens aren’t the explicit target; breaking into the Facebook or Gmail accounts of noncitizens still means potentially breaching servers residing in the United States. The source added that Khalife, DarkMatter’s CFO, has in the past discouraged American employees from obtaining compliance under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a regulatory regime governing the sale of American military goods and services.

The Reuters report said the NSA was not involved in DarkMatter’s day-to-day operations but “approved of and was regularly briefed on Raven’s activities.”

Initiatives to target journalists were just one of the many ways in which Americans were hacked or surveilled by Project Raven, Cole and the source on the hacking team said. Wired magazine, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch were likely targeted by Project Raven hackers at the behest of Emirati clientele such as the NESA, they told The Intercept, but could not recall details.

The post Team of American Hackers and Emirati Spies Discussed Attacking The Intercept appeared first on The Intercept.

Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.

Decarbonizing the US Economy: Pathways Toward a Green New Deal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2019 - 8:24am in

The greatest challenge of the 21st century—the climate crisis—is here: The global community has just 11 years to cut emissions by 45 percent and must achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5oC, according to climate scientists. In Decarbonizing the US Economy: Pathways Toward a Green New Deal, Roosevelt Fellows Mark Paul and J.W. Mason and assistant professor of economics at Colorado State University Anders Fremstadargue that a rapid decarbonization program is not only possible, but that it will create jobs, improve economic growth, and promote equity. Such an endeavor, however, necessitates immediate action and a broad range of policy tools. They outline the three pillars of such an approach: 1) carbon pricing that ensures that we meet our emissions goals in an equitable way; 2) comprehensive regulations to promote decarbonization across the board; and 3) large-scale public investments. The authors also explore how to pay for a Green New Deal, outlining the macroeconomic reasons why more public spending is a pro-growth proposal.

For nearly 50 years, flawed economic assumptions have guided American politics and policymaking, ultimately stunting action on this issue. Economists and policymakers argued that disrupting markets through environmental regulation or carbon taxes would cost too much in terms of economic growth; that government spending to decarbonize the economy would bankrupt our country; and that public investment would be ineffective and wasteful. Combatting climate change in the US and decarbonizing the economy will require a comprehensive social transformation, which includes dismantling the markets-first approach that has dominated policy decisions for nearly half of a century.

We believe that the public sector must play the leading role in directing decarbonization and in a broader Green New Deal movement.Though markets have many virtues, markets alone are not a suitable tool for the rapid, society-wide reorganization of production that this moment requires. The Green New Deal has initiated a critical discussion on mass mobilization that is capable of redefining and improving the planet, the economy, and people’s lives. And it offers the American people a chance to reclaim our collective power and reshape our society into one that is more just and equitable—one that is more focused on human flourishing and less on private profit. We should not let this chance go to waste.

Read our summary document, the “Realities of Climate Change” issue brief, and our five policy briefs on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, implementing a carbon cap-and-dividend program, directing credit to green businesses, building a high-capacity national grid, and paying farmers to capture carbon.

The post Decarbonizing the US Economy: Pathways Toward a Green New Deal appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.

Right-Wing Sting Group Project Veritas Is Breaking Facebook’s “Authentic Behavior” Rule. Now What?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2019 - 9:00pm in



A member of Project Veritas gave testimony in a federal court case indicating that the right-wing group, known for its undercover videos, violates Facebook policies designed to counter systematic deception by Russian troll farms and other groups. The deposition raises questions over whether Facebook will deter American operatives who use the platform to strategically deceive and damage political opponents as vigorously as it has Iranian and Russian propagandists. But is the company capable of doing so without just creating more problems?

Close observers of Veritas and Facebook, including one at a research lab that works with the social network, said the testimony shows the group is clearly violating policies against what Facebook refers to as “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The company formally defined such behavior in a December 2018 video featuring its cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher, who said it “is when groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they’re doing.” The designation, Gleicher added, is applied by Facebook to a group not “because of the content they’re sharing” but rather only “because of their deceptive behavior.” That is, using Facebook to dupe people is all it takes to fit the company’s institutional definition of coordinated inauthentic behavior.

In practice, “coordinated inauthentic behavior” has become a sort of catchall label for untoward meddling on Facebook, snagging everyone from Burmese military officers to Russian meme spammers. But curbing such activity has become a very public crusade for Facebook in the wake of its prominent role as a platform for the spread of disinformation, propaganda, and outright hoaxes during the 2016 presidential campaign. This past January, Gleicher announced the removal of coordinated inauthentic behavior from Iran, which spread when operatives “coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves,” thus triggering a Facebook ban. Similarly, in a 2017 update on Facebook’s internal investigation into Russian online propaganda efforts, the company’s then-head of security Alex Stamos assured the world’s democracies the company was providing “technology improvements for detecting fake accounts,” including “changes to help us more efficiently detect and stop inauthentic accounts at the time they are being created.”

Throughout all of this, coordinated inauthentic behavior has remained more or less synonymous with “foreign actors” and “nation-states,” the cloak-and-dagger stuff of an increasingly militarized internet filled with enemies of the Western Democracy who seek to subvert it from abroad.

Project Veritas, a hybrid of an opposition research shop and a ranting YouTube channel, has taken pride in its ability to deceive since its creation in 2010. With conservative backers like Peter Thiel, the Koch brothers, and the Trump Foundation, the group and its founder James O’Keefe have worked relentlessly to target and malign individuals at institutions they deem leftist, whether it’s Planned Parenthood (reportedly targeted by O’Keefe posing as a young teen’s 23-year-old boyfriend), George Soros (the progressive philanthropist whose professional circle Veritas tried and spectacularly failed to infiltrate), or the Washington Post (whose reporter was offered a fake story on Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore). O’Keefe has long attempted to position himself in the context of dogged, daring, traditional journalism, describing Veritas’s efforts as “investigative” reporting executed by “undercover journalists.” But his efforts are often executed by what the New Yorker has called “amateurish spies” — their efforts against the Post and Soros resembled a Three Stooges bit — and packaged with mendacious editing, duplicitous production, and outright lying, making Veritas’s audience as much a victim of its productions as the subjects. Debates over who or what is to be considered “real journalism” are almost always counterproductive and contrived, but Veritas stands out for the shamelessness with which it pursues nakedly partisan ends.

There is, of course, a proud tradition of undercover journalism executed unequivocally in the name of informing the public. Writers like Barbara Ehrenreich and Shane Bauer have taken jobs they were not otherwise interested in in order to reveal injustices in society’s margins, and some of the most damning details of the Cambridge Analytica scandal were exposed by a reporter with the UK’s Channel 4 posing as a foreign politician interested in the company’s services. This reporting involved lying, sure — or at least the withholding of true intent, and a willingness to let others deceive themselves — but only as a means to a truthful end. The distinction between these reporters and Veritas operatives may be that the end the latter group seeks, the final media product, is typically just another act of partisan misdirection that doesn’t withstand further scrutiny.

Neither Project Veritas nor Facebook commented for this story.

“Legend Building” by Project Veritas

Project Veritas has systematically deceived not just targets on the left and viewers on the right but Facebook users as well (their official page has over 200,000 followers) at a time when the company is publicly dedicated to fighting this sort of systemic duplicity. That’s a wrinkle that raises questions about Facebook’s commitment to rooting out coordinated inauthentic behavior closer to home — Thiel sits on the company’s board — not to mention Project Veritas’s presence on social media.

“We thus have the admission of intent by the organization and evidence of action by multiple of its agents.”

In 2017, O’Keefe sued the Suffolk County district attorney over a Massachusetts law barring the covert recording of government officials. This past December, a federal judge overturned the rule. But in the course of the lawsuit, Joe Halderman, a member of the Project Veritas inner circle who was previously convicted of trying to extort late night television host David Letterman in 2010, sat for a deposition. In it, Halderman was compelled to submit to a sworn interrogation of Veritas methods. Just how does one go about duping savvy politicos and the politico-adjacent in the 21st century?

During his deposition, Halderman, Project Veritas’s self-described “executive producer,” stated under oath that the organization falsifies Facebook accounts as part of its overall strategy of deceiving the targets of its investigations. Halderman, characterizing himself as “integrally involved in [Project Veritas’s] investigations and have been since I started four years ago,” describes the work that went into setting up Robert Creamer, a Democratic operative recorded by Veritas in a 2016. That video attempted to portray Creamer as complicit in a Hillary Clinton-led campaign to violently disrupt Donald Trump’s campaign events with counterprotests and engaging in counter-Trump voter fraud — both regular, unfounded talking points repeated by Trump on the campaign trail. Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Justice concluded an investigation into the videos, determining that they “reveal no evidence of election fraud,” the Associated Press reported.

But before Veritas could get Creamer on camera, they needed to make contact via a fake persona, Halderman explained. Per the transcript (emphasis added):

Q. And you spoke earlier about PVA [Veritas] creating this donor, Charles. When you say create the donor, what did PVA do to create the donor?

A. So, I thought of a name. I talked to the undercover journalist who was the person who met with Foval. We between us sort of created this story of this person. I got some business cards made. I got an e-mail. I set up an e-mail account. What else did I do? I think that’s about all I did.

Again, in this particular case, we didn’t feel like they were going to get seriously vetted. In some investigations we do legend building because we believe or our concern is that we’re going to be vetted reasonably, you know, by open source information.

So, we’ll create a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page. We’ve even gone so far in the past of creating LLCs, offshore bank accounts. We do a lot of things because undercover journalism is a tricky, complicated business.

According to Lauren Windsor, a political organizer and partner at Democracy Partners (alongside Robert Creamer) who began documenting Veritas’s team of “undercover” operatives and their various aliases after her own organization was infiltrated, this sort of use of phony social accounts is the group’s standard operating procedure. “In conducting extensive outreach to victims and extensive research of social media networks to build the vetting resource website Project Veritas Exposed,” explained Windsor, “I documented several instances of PV violating Facebook’s terms by creating fake profiles. We thus have the admission of intent by the organization and evidence of action by multiple of its agents.”

Windsor’s work includes cataloging Project Veritas’s network of fake Facebook accounts; Windsor provided screenshots to The Intercept. In one example, Veritas operative Marisa Jorge’s likeness is used for the Facebook profile of “Ava-Marie Joyce.” The bio of the Ava-Marie persona bizarrely describes herself as “Carrie Tallinn, a self-employed professional women’s right activist.”

According to a 2018 lawsuit reported by The Intercept last year, Jorge previously misrepresented herself as a University of Michigan student in order to gain improper access to teachers union documents. The friends list for “Ava-Marie Joyce” lists another profile fabricated by Project Veritas, “Ava Marie Allen.”

Another screenshot shows a Facebook profile for “Tyler Marshall,” which O’Keefe himself disclosed as a fabricated identity in his 2018 book “American Pravda.” In a section of that book (subtitle: “My Fight For Truth in the Era of Fake News”) detailing Veritas’s attempts to infiltrate protestors planning action around Trump’s presidential inauguration, O’Keefe wrote that his operatives all “of course, establish a social media presence under their assumed names—‘Tyler Marshall,’ say, or ‘Adam Stevens.’ The presence includes Twitter, Facebook, and email at the least.”

Exploitation of Facebook by a Group Linked To Military Intelligence

Emerson Brooking, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, said Veritas’s homegrown social media deception is a clear violation of Facebook’s policy. After reading the deposition, Brooking told The Intercept, “Mr. Halderman describes the creation of fake Facebook personas for the purpose of deception” and “implies that this is a regular and systematic practice. Under any reasonable definition, Project Veritas is engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior and abuse of the Facebook platform.”

“Under any reasonable definition, Project Veritas is engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior and abuse of the Facebook platform.”

Brooking’s group, a frequently cited authority on online electoral interference and other digital propaganda campaigns, entered into an official partnership with Facebook last year. A Facebook director wrote at the time that experts at the lab “will work closely with our security, policy and product teams to get Facebook real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.”

If it sounds like a stretch to compare Project Veritas to a Russian troll farm, consider the group’s links to the U.S. defense establishment. As The Intercept reported in May, Veritas members underwent “intelligence and elicitation techniques from a retired military intelligence operative named Euripides Rubio Jr.,” personally arranged by the infamous American mercenary and Trump adviser Erik Prince. What we have here, then, is a 2016 military intelligence-linked, organized effort to undermine the Democratic Party and boost the Trump presidential campaign using falsified social media profiles. If that doesn’t sound familiar, it certainly should.

The problem with Facebook and its peers has never been identifying abuses and misuses, whether truly dangerous or merely toxic; Facebook, Twitter, and Google alone represent perhaps history’s greatest living catalog of antisocial behavior, a frenzy of rule violation on a mass scale. Whether these companies deem comprehensive content moderation simply too expensive or not worth the public relations mess, the fact is that the public rarely sees movement on these issues in the absence of congressional scolding or media uproar.

The real issue is uneven, arbitrary enforcement of “the rules.” Max Read, writing in New York magazine on another social network’s enforcement blunders, argued that “the problem for YouTube is that for rules to be taken seriously by the people they govern, they need to be applied consistently and clearly.” YouTube is about as terrible at this exercise as Facebook is, and there’s a good chance that if Facebook treated malicious right-wing American exploitation of its network the same way it treats malicious foreign exploitation of its network, it would probably botch the whole thing and end up burning people who actually do use phony Facebook profiles for work toward the public good.

That a company like Facebook is even in a position to create “rules” like the coordinated inauthentic behavior policy that apply to a large chunk of the Earth’s population is itself a serious problem, one made considerably worse by completely erratic enforcement. It’s bad enough having a couple guys in California take up the banner of defending “Democracy” around the world through the exclusive control of one of the most powerful information organs in human history; if nothing else, we should hope their decisions are predictable and consistent.

Correction: June 11th, 2019, 11:19 a.m.

This article has been updated to name Lauren Windsor’s employer, Democracy Partners, where she is a partner.

The post Right-Wing Sting Group Project Veritas Is Breaking Facebook’s “Authentic Behavior” Rule. Now What? appeared first on The Intercept.

China Bans The Intercept and Other News Sites in “Censorship Black Friday”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2019 - 3:44am in


Technology, World

The Chinese government appears to have launched a major new internet crackdown, blocking the country’s citizens from accessing The Intercept’s website and those of at least seven other Western news organizations.

On Friday, people in China began reporting that they could not access the websites of The Intercept, The Guardian, the Washington Post, HuffPost, NBC News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Toronto Star, and Breitbart News.

It is unclear exactly when the censorship came into effect or the reasons for it. But Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and Chinese authorities have reportedly increased levels of online censorship to coincide with the event.

Charlie Smith, co-founder of, an organization that monitors Chinese government internet censorship, said that the apparent crackdown on Western news sites represented a significant new development and described it as a “censorship Black Friday.”

“This frenzied activity could indicate that the authorities are accelerating their push to sever the link between Chinese citizens and any news source that falls outside of the influence of The Party,” said Smith, referencing the ruling Communist Party regime.

For years, China has blocked several Western news organizations after they have published stories that reflect negatively on the government. The New York Times, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and Reuters have all previously been censored, rendering their websites inaccessible in the country.

China operates an internet censorship system known as the Great Firewall, which uses filtering equipment to stop people in the country from accessing content published on banned websites that are operated outside China’s borders.

It is possible to circumvent the censorship using tools such as a virtual private network, or VPN. However, use of technology that bypasses the Great Firewall is banned — and people in the country who sell access to these services have been jailed.

In the last year, The Intercept has published a series of reports revealing Google’s plan to launch a censored search engine in China. The reports highlighted the extensive online blocking in China of information about human rights, democracy, peaceful protest, and religion. They also revealed secretive, high-level meetings between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official named Wang Huning.

Within China, censorship in recent weeks increased as the country prepared for the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprisings, a series of student protests that were violently suppressed by the army, leading to more than 10,000 civilian deaths, according to some estimates.

Prior to the anniversary, on June 4, Chinese internet users reported widespread censorship on social media websites. On popular messaging services such as Weibo and a streaming service run by the company YY Inc., users were prevented from entering search terms such as “Tiananmen incident,” “candlelight vigil,” “repression,” and “student movement.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

The post China Bans The Intercept and Other News Sites in “Censorship Black Friday” appeared first on The Intercept.

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.


This Chinese Artist Criticized Google and Xi Jinping. Now He’s Facing Government Harassment.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/06/2019 - 10:45pm in


Technology, World

The messages arrived suddenly and then he went quiet. “My identity is leaked,” he said. “I am worried about my safety.”

The Chinese dissident artist Badiucao had been busy preparing an exhibition in Hong Kong to celebrate Free Expression Week, a series of events organized by rights groups. His show was partly inspired by Google’s plan to build a censored search engine in China, and was set to include work that the artist had created skewering the U.S. tech giant for cooperating with the Communist Party regime’s suppression of internet freedom.

But just days before the exhibition was set to launch last year, at a high-profile event featuring members of Russian punk-activist group Pussy Riot, it was canceled by organizers. Badiucao had received threats from the Chinese government and soon went into hiding.

It was a nightmare scenario for the artist, one of China’s most prolific political satirists, who has never revealed his real name. Somehow, police in China had discovered who he was — and they were trying to track him down.

“China is trying to stop any chance for people in Hong Kong to resist.”

“The Chinese government sent two policemen to visit my family in China. They took one of my family members to a police station and interrogated them for three or four hours,” Badiucao told The Intercept. “They were sending a message that they wanted my show to be canceled, and they said they would show no mercy to me anymore. It was intimidation, a terror tactic in order to force me to shut my mouth.”

Badiucao — who goes by the name “Buddy” — was born in Shanghai and studied law in China before moving to Australia, where he has lived in exile for the last 10 years. Wearing masks and cross-dressing during public appearances, he has gone to extreme lengths to conceal his identity, fearing reprisals from China’s government over his work, which regularly mocks and criticizes President Xi Jinping and his regime’s authoritarian policies.


In a still from “China’s Artful Dissident,” Badiucao is pictured in Melbourne, Australia, with a piece he created in response to a 2018 constitutional change in China allowing President Xi Jinping to remain in power for life.

Image: Courtesy of Badiucao

Once he discovered that police in China had uncovered his identity, Badiucao disappeared from the internet. For six months, his highly active Twitter and Instagram pages fell silent. But after taking a break to assess his future and his security, the 33-year-old artist has decided that he is ready to return. His latest project, “China’s Artful Dissident,” is a documentary film aired in Australia on Tuesday, in which he reveals his face to the public for the first time.

“The only way to maintain my safety is to show myself to the world and tell the world what happened in Hong Kong,” Badiucao said in a phone interview from Melbourne. “For a lot of people, it was a big defeat of human rights and free speech that my exhibition got canceled. I want to make sure that people know this is not the end. I am not away. I am back. I will be back with you. And we will fight together.”

Hong Kong is a special administrative region in China and has a degree of independence from the mainland, with devolved judicial powers and more human rights protections. However, the regime in Beijing has been increasingly asserting control over Hong Kong, and in the last few years, there has been a steady crackdown on political events, media freedom, independent bookstores, and pro-democracy activism.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” Badiucao said. “China is trying to stop any chance for people in Hong Kong to resist. It is a different city now. This is no longer the Hong Kong that we know.”

The coerced cancellation of Badiucao’s exhibition in Hong Kong was a stark example of Beijing’s tightening grip on the region. The event had been titled “Gongle,” a play on words about Google, based on a Chinese phrase that translates to “singing for Communism.”


Another still from “China’s Artful Dissident” shows a portion of an exhibition Badiucao had planned to launch in November 2018 in Hong Kong, inspired by Google’s plan to develop a censored search engine in China.

Image: Courtesy of Badiucao

Badiucao’s work for the show had included drawings celebrating the Umbrella Movement, a series of street protests against China’s interference in Hong Kong’s electoral system, staged between September and December 2014. The exhibition also featured portrayals of Xi as the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh, a reference to a meme, despised by the regime, mocking the Chinese leader’s plump appearance; images and mentions of Winnie the Pooh are now routinely blocked on Chinese social media sites.

Prior to the planned exhibition, Badiucao had created several pieces satirizing Google’s planned censored search engine for China. He drew pictures of the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai wearing a “Make Wall Great Again” baseball cap, referencing China’s internet censorship system, known as the Great Firewall. The artist also organized a protest at Google’s headquarters in California, where he distributed some of the red baseball caps to Google employees before being moved on by security.

Google has claimed that it is no longer developing the search engine, known as Dragonfly, but has refused to rule out launching it in future. Badiucao said he was angered by Google’s plan, describing it as “totally unacceptable” and symbolic of a greater battle between free speech and censorship in China. “Developing a new search engine that would help the Chinese government hunt down dissidents and tighten control over free speech — this is just disgraceful,” he said.

In recent weeks, Badiucao has turned his attention to Twitter’s business dealings with China. The artist pitched a project to the social media company, offering to create a special emoji “hashflag” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Every time a person used the #Tiananmen30 hashtag, one of Badiucao’s emojis — such as an image of the man who famously blocked a tank during the protests — would appear beside it. Twitter wrote back to him claiming that it could only use “a limited number of emojis” on the platform and said it wasn’t interested in the collaboration.

On May 23, around the same time as its correspondence with Badiucao, Twitter hosted a “Twitter for Marketers” conference in Beijing. For Badiucao, this highlighted that while the company does not operate its platform in China because it is banned there, it still rakes in a huge amount of advertising revenue from the country — and therefore has a vested interest in staying on the Communist Party regime’s good side.

“I’m expecting a vendetta from the Chinese government. However, sometimes ideas require sacrifice and we need people standing up for them.”

“If they collaborate with me, it would agitate the Chinese businesses putting adverts on Twitter,” he said, pointing out that Twitter accepts advertising money from Chinese government propaganda outlets, such as Xinhua News, promoting their articles to millions of users across the world.

Badiucao is planning to launch a protest campaign over Twitter’s position on China — one of several new projects he is developing after the threats forced his break from public life. In refusing to keep quiet, he faces the risk that police will return to harass members of his family who remain on the Chinese mainland. That is a common tactic, he said. “They think maybe you are close to that person, so they can hurt that person in order to get you.”

Badiucao believes that he may never be able to return to China or its surrounding territories, unless the political situation in the country changes dramatically, which appears highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. Even thousands of miles away in Australia, where he has obtained citizenship, he says he does not feel safe and fears that his computer, phones, and internet connection have been subjected to repeated hacking attempts. As a consequence, he regularly changes his electronic devices and phone numbers. He is still unsure of how the Chinese government discovered his identity, leading him to question whether someone he knows may have exposed him. “Maybe somebody accidentally leaked,” he said, “or someone I contacted was compromised by the Chinese government and is spying for them.”

However it happened, Badiucao has now come to terms with the fact that his anonymity is gone, and he is ready to confront the consequences. “If finding my family does not work, they will try to find me personally, even if I am in Australia,” he said, referencing accusations that China has in the past kidnapped dissidents living overseas. “I’m not naive about it. I’m expecting a vendetta from the Chinese government. However, sometimes ideas require sacrifice and we need people standing up for them. I feel that I have to do this. If I don’t speak up and defend my own freedom of speech, I can no longer be an artist.”

The post This Chinese Artist Criticized Google and Xi Jinping. Now He’s Facing Government Harassment. appeared first on The Intercept.

Amazon Offered Job to Pentagon Official Involved With $10 Billion Contract It Sought

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/06/2019 - 6:58am in

In a federal lawsuit, the tech giant Oracle has provided new details to support its accusation that Amazon secretly negotiated a job offer with a then-Department of Defense official who helped shape the procurement process for a massive federal contract for which Amazon was a key bidder.

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are now the two finalists to win the highly contested $10 billion contract for what is known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI. The deal, one of the largest federal contracts in U.S. history, would pay one company to provide cloud computing services in support of Defense Department operations around the world.

But the contract has been hotly contested since the department began soliciting proposals last year. Two of Amazon’s competitors, IBM and Oracle, filed complaints with the Government Accountability Office saying that the winner-take-all process unfairly favored Amazon, which is seen as an industry leader in cloud computing. When its claim was rejected, Oracle sued the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Since the court battle began in 2018, Oracle has aggressively lodged conflict-of-interest accusations involving a former DOD official named Deap Ubhi, who left the department in 2017 to take a job at Amazon. In a court motion filed on Friday, Oracle alleged that while Ubhi worked on the preliminary research for the JEDI program in the late summer and fall of 2017, he was also engaged in a secret job negotiation with Amazon for months, complete with salary discussions, offers of signing bonuses, and lucrative stock options.

The motion further alleges that Ubhi did not recuse himself from the JEDI program until weeks after verbally accepting a job offer from Amazon and that he continued to receive information about Amazon’s competitors and participate in meetings about technical requirements, despite a government regulation that forbids such conflicts of interest.

“Neither Ubhi nor [Amazon Web Services] disclosed the employment discussions or job offer to DOD — not when the employment discussions started, not when the informal job offer occurred, not when the formal offer occurred, and not even when Ubhi accepted the offer,” Oracle’s motion reads.

As America’s technology companies have continued to outpace the Pentagon, the Defense Department has looked to recruit talent from Silicon Valley to help enhance its information technology.

Ubhi is a venture capitalist and technology entrepreneur who worked for Amazon before his time in government. He took a job working on a Defense Department initiative aimed at collaborating with Silicon Valley to modernize the Pentagon’s information technology systems. After working as part of a four-person team to help shape the Pentagon JEDI procurement process, he left the department and returned to Amazon in November 2017.

A spokesperson for Amazon Web Services declined to comment and declined to make Ubhi available for an interview, citing ongoing litigation. Elissa Smith, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, also told The Intercept that “we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

In a previous court filing, U.S. government lawyers accused Oracle of a “broad fishing expedition primarily [intended] to find support for its claim that the solicitation at issue is tainted by alleged conflicts of interest.”

According to Oracle’s motion on Friday, Ubhi began job negotiations with Amazon in August 2017, while he was working on the early stages of the JEDI program. Oracle claims says that “deep discussions” about employment began in late September and that Ubhi “verbally committed” to take the job on October 4. But according to the filing, Ubhi did not recuse himself until October 31, 2017. Oracle alleges that he continued to influence the program in the meantime.

Under the Procurement Integrity Act, government officials who are “contacted by a [contract] bidder about non-federal employment” have two options: They must either report the contact and reject the offer of employment or promptly recuse themselves from any contract proceedings.

“Contracts should be awarded fairly based on merit,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight, told The Intercept. “The Procurement Integrity Act seeks to ensure that job offers and other financial conflicts of interest don’t influence that process.”

Last year, a Defense Department review found that “there were four instances where [department] individuals with potential financial conflicts of interest” had worked on the JEDI program, according to court records, but the Pentagon concluded that this hadn’t unfairly impacted the contracting process. Two follow-up reviews — one by the GAO in November 2018 and another by the Defense Department in April 2019 — came to similar conclusions.

The second Pentagon review came after the department said that it had received “new information” about Ubhi and would investigate it. According to Oracle’s motion on Friday, the “new information” came from a “belated submission from [Amazon]” to the DOD’s contracting officer that finally acknowledged the monthslong employment talks.

According to Oracle, Ubhi provided a “false narrative” to the contracting officer at the time of his recusal, saying that he was stepping away from the project because Amazon had offered to acquire a company that Ubhi had a stake in. That was a pretext to mask the fact he had been negotiating for months to obtain a job at the company, Oracle’s filing said.

The filing also alleges that between Ubhi’s verbal commitment to accept Amazon’s offer and his recusal from JEDI, he continued to participate in Pentagon meetings about the project’s technical requirements and to receive submissions from Amazon competitors. It also alleges that Ubhi downloaded material from a JEDI project Google Drive to his own laptop.

In its filings, Oracle has argued that Ubhi was instrumental in persuading the Pentagon to seek services from a single vendor — a decision widely seen to improve Amazon’s chances. Oracle cites workplace messages on the platform Slack in which Ubhi tries to persuade his colleagues to come around to that view, but the company does not cite any messages suggesting what his reasons or motive may have been.

Lawyers for the U.S. have countered that Ubhi’s involvement was early in the process, before the agency had even put out its draft solicitations. The deputy director of the GAO has also testified that Ubhi’s role at DOD was to “take the lead on a market research report” and that characterizing him as the lead on the acquisition process is inaccurate.

Public affairs officers for Amazon Web Services have also said in the past that Ubhi works with the commercial division of the company, not the public sector division, therefore minimizing his contact with the part of the company perusing the contract.

The post Amazon Offered Job to Pentagon Official Involved With $10 Billion Contract It Sought appeared first on The Intercept.